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S'porean 'walking atlas' Max Zeng and Imperial College team advance to finals of British quiz show

SINGAPORE — Mr Maximilian Zeng, the Singaporean student who shot to social media stardom for his prodigious geography knowledge on the British television quiz show, the University Challenge, has advanced with his team to the finals of the competition.

In this screenshot taken from the BBC television quiz show, University Challenge, Singaporean Maximilian Zeng (far left) is seen plotting out a map before answering a question.

In this screenshot taken from the BBC television quiz show, University Challenge, Singaporean Maximilian Zeng (far left) is seen plotting out a map before answering a question.

  • Mr Maximilian Zeng, 22, and his team from the Imperial College London have advanced to the grand finals of the University Challenge
  • Mr Zeng, a biochemistry student, made a name for himself on the long-running British quiz show for his ability to answer obscure geography-related questions
  • The finals will be aired by British national broadcaster BBC on April 4 

SINGAPORE — Mr Maximilian Zeng, the Singaporean student who shot to social media stardom for his prodigious geography knowledge on the British television quiz show, the University Challenge, has advanced with his team to the finals of the competition.

This means that the team of four from Imperial College London will go head-to-head with either the University of Edinburgh or the University of Reading, depending on the outcome of the competition’s second semi-final which will be televised by British national broadcaster BBC on Monday (March 28).

Aside from Mr Zeng, a 22-year-old biochemistry student, the team also comprises Ms Fatima Sheriff, a master’s student in science communication; Mr Michael Mays, a doctor of philosophy student in computational fluid dynamics; and Mr Gilbert Jackson, a chemistry student.

The grand finals for the long-running competition, that pits universities from across Britain to answer questions on all sorts of topics, will be aired on April 4.

Mr Zeng’s impressive knowledge was once again put on display for viewers during the first semi-final of the competition, aired on March 21, that put his team up against Emmanuel College, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge.

In one segment of the 30-minute programme, quiz show host Jeremy Paxman puts forth a set of bonus questions for the Imperial College team regarding Claudius Ptolemy's map of Ireland, a map that dates back to the second century.

Mr Zeng deftly answers all three questions accurately.

Claudius Ptolemy, born around 85 AD in Egypt, is known for being a mathematician, geographer and astrologer.

The first question was: “Bouwinda on Ptolemy's map is identified as what river that rises in County Kildare and meets the Irish Seas near Drogheda?”

After spending a brief moment plotting out the coordinates by gesturing with fingers in the air, Mr Zeng gives the answer: The Boyne.

The second question: “Logia corresponds to the River Lagan that joins the sea as a loch name after which city?”

Again, Mr Zeng plots out the map in the air with his fingers and says, “Belfast”.

For the final question, the team is asked: “Senos is thought to be what long river that flows into the Atlantic to the west of Limerick?”

For this question, Mr Zeng immediately turns his head to his teammates and says, “Must be Shannon, right?” He was right.

By the end of the show, the Imperial team had racked up a score of 170, more than double their competitor’s score of 65.

Mr Zeng won the internet after video clips of his team’s performance against the University of Reading on Feb 14 made its rounds online.

The clip showed off the man’s uncanny ability to answer almost every obscure geography-related question accurately, so much so that he has been affectionately given various titles online such as “the greatest human satellite navigation system" and "the walking atlas".

In an interview with regional news outlet CNA, Mr Zeng said that he “thinks of maps all day”, and that his love affair with cartography began at the age of three, when he was given his first map.

By age six, he “knew all the countries and capitals”.

Related topics

Maximilian Zeng University Challenge BBC geography quiz

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