Your starter for 10...Where is the student who taught politicians how to handle Paxman?

Tom Peck hunts for Alex Guttenplan, star of University Challenge

It is the favoured technique of the celebrity caught in the roasting heat of the media spotlight (just ask Tiger Woods) – retreating to the ocean waves, beyond the reach of all but the most unhinged paparazzi.

So this weekend, as reporters descended on a tidy family home in north London, Alexander Guttenplan, 19, was merrily cutting his way through the grey waters of the English Channel, sailing and laying low until Monday night, when the most significant day of his short life will be broadcast on national television.

Mr Guttenplan, a natural sciences student, has captained his team from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to this year's final of University Challenge and, much to his surprise, has become a pin-up in the process.

For this there are three reasons. Firstly, he is very clever. He appears to be as comfortable answering questions about quantum mechanics as he does responding to queries about the Bible. He is also cute – he has that Harry Potter thing going. And finally, he has revealed Jeremy Paxman's Achilles' heel: politeness. In the early rounds, when the caustic quizmaster, in all his self-appointed powers of omniscience, branded one of the student's answers "a good guess", Mr Guttenplan retorted, understatedly, "It wasn't a guess", leaving Paxman floundering. In so doing, the teenager succeeded where dozens of Cabinet ministers have failed.

Breathless websites have been set up where "Guttenfans" declare their faith: "Guys want to be him, girls want to be with him." Typical comments include: "I think I love you. If you are in any way available, please contact me immediately."

If it were ever possible to rehearse for a quiz that, so far as the majority of the population are concerned, might as well be conducted in Klingon, the Guttenplan breakfast table would not be a bad place to begin. Guttenplan Junior is not even the brainiest member of his family. His father DD Guttenplan, a renowned journalist, film-maker and intellectual, holds degrees in philosophy, English literature and history from three different universities and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Alexander's mother, Maria Margaronis, also a journalist, writes for The Nation, The London Review of Books and translates Greek poetry.

A university friend said yesterday: "Alex likes sailing anyway and he just wants a breather. The media have been knocking on the door."

He will apparently pull into harbour on Monday afternoon before heading off to meet his three teammates to watch the pre-recorded programme broadcast of BBC2.

Mr Guttenplan, described by his father as a "shy, cerebral son", has had to content with little hype in Cambridge, only the occasional titter in lectures if he now gets something wrong. His new fame once saw him approached in a student nightclub, although he generally seems happier as "chairbeing" of the Cambridge University Science-Fiction Society, and a member of the Cambridge University Ceilidh Band.

His academic prospects blossomed after he was withdrawn from state education. He had "taught himself to read" at the age of three, when the family were living in Brooklyn, New York, before moving to London. But his state school was stifling him, the Guttenplans decided. "Cosmopolitan, relatively leafy and filled with urban energy, our new home was also, we soon learned, an educational desert," his father recalled.

"Islington's failing schools were notorious, but a visit to one of the more successful primaries was just as dismaying. The deputy head was gracious and articulate. The students were sparky, polite and full of potential. However, when we walked into what would have been our son's class the teacher looked at us and cried, 'Not another child!' "

The state school was, according to his father, "starved of resources and squeezed by the national curriculum ... there seemed little room for creativity."

So he was packed off to the fee-paying Westminster School, where, "instead of regarding his ability to read as a licence to ignore him, they encouraged our son to do all the things that came less easily, from drawing to football to drama," Mr Guttenplan Snr added, admitting his middle class guilt that "small classes, excellent teachers and a challenging curriculum have given him a superb education".

Among Mr Guttenplan's female fans, there are no doubt many who hope to see a University Challenge trophy on display in his bedroom.

Are you as smart as Alex? Questions he got right

1. Who argued for the theory of evolution of species in the 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker?

2. According to the Book of Exodus, Amram and his father's sister Jochebed are the parents of which prophet?

3. What period of time is 11 days shorter than the solar year?

4. Which Scottish Island gives its name to the 93 chess pieces discovered there, right?

5. International Books Day is held annually on or about 2 April, which is the birth date of which children's author born in 1805 in Copenhagen?

6. At its brightest, which planet can reach an apparent magnitude of -4.7 in the earth's sky?

7. In the Schrödinger equation of quantum wave mechanics what quantity is represented by "h"?

8. King Thibaw was the last king of which country?

9. What is the highest two-digit number, both of whose digits are primes?

10. Named after a Dutch physicist born 1865, what is the splitting of atomic spectral lines in a static magnetic field?

11. The flag of which North African state features a green device sometimes known as Solomon's Seal on a red background?

12. Which region of north-west India and Pakistan has a name meaning five waters?


1. Richard Dawkins; 2. Moses; 3. The lunar year; 4. Lewis; 5. Hans Christian Andersen; 6. Venus; 7. Planck's Constant; 8. Burma; 9. 77; 10. The Zeeman effect; 11. Morocco; 12. Punjab

What happened to...University Challenge stars

*Gail Trimble (2009)

Dubbed "The Human Google" after answering more questions correctly than any other contestant, ever, she won with Corpus Christi, Oxford, but the team was stripped of the title when it was discovered it had fielded an ineligible player. The men's magazine Nuts attempted to persuade Ms Trimble to pose naked in a photoshoot, sending a Facebook message to her brother. He replied: "Seriously mate, would you give your sister's contact details to Nuts?" She is now a fellow at Cambridge University.

*Luke Pitcher (2002)

Won with Somerville College, Oxford. Now a classics lecturer at Oxford. Says: "I'm very happy being clever. In fact, one of the abiding pleasures of my life is the things my mind can do."

*John Authers (1987)

Captain of the University College, Oxford team that racked up the highest score in the show's history (520), but lost in the final. Now a Financial Times columnist.

*David Lidington (1979)

Won with Sidney Sussex, Cambridge. He later became a Conservative MP and is now shadow minister for foreign affairs.

*Aubrey "Larry" Lawrence (1968)

Captained Keele's only winning team. Four years on, won Brain of Britain.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil