Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ep 386: Christopher Piggott-McKellar, Michael Vnuk (February 20, 2012)

Lily damaged her right shoulder since the last game, so will be using her left hand for the rest of the week.  People who kept an eye on the Letters and Numbers updates (facebook, twitter, etc.) last year may recall how there was an unexpected announcement of audience seating for finals on a Saturday.  The reason, as I understand it, is that the filming of the episodes for this week and next week were pushed back a day so as to allow Lily some extra recovery time.  I really hope that it was enough for her.

Christopher (as implied last game) is a keen AFL player.  He notes that there is a distinction between skilful and keen, and he is definitely keen.  He would love to be an AFL commentator; in response to Richard's query, Christopher concedes that he has not practiced it, except maybe sometimes in the shower.  "In lieu of singing, because [he is] a bit tone deaf."

Tonight's challenger  is Michael Vnuk, a freelance editor.  He met his wife through playing Scrabble, and they still play against each other at home.  That's pretty much all we find out about him, so I'm going to add things that weren't mentioned on the show.  This year he'll be representing South Australia in the State Team Challenge Scrabble event; he is currently ranked 65th nationally, although he has been as high as 31st place.  The following further information is taken from the Society of Editors (South Australia) Past meetings page:
Michael Vnuk, AE, started his working life as a geologist, but has always been fascinated with words. Although he'd dabbled in Scrabble over the years, it wasn't until the 1990s that he got serious and began playing in Scrabble tournaments. This led to his running a Scrabble club, organising and directing tournaments, serving on committees, and editing Across the Board, the quarterly Australian Scrabble newsletter. Michael enjoyed the voluntary editing and went on to complete a TAFE editing diploma. He's been a freelance editor since 2007, working mainly on science-related materials.

Michael gets off to a good lead in the first round, as the retsina mix offers up easy fodder for a tournament Scrabble player.  He has another good find in the fourth round to extend the lead to fifteen points, and he manages to maintain that through the last letters game.  But then Christopher comes storming home with a good solve of the final numbers game to close the gap to five, and a fast solve of the conundrum to take a five point win, 54 to 49.  Now that was a great finish!

I was on target with the numbers today, and in decent shape with the letters.  I was a little too slow with one better word, and completely missed another.  Aside from that it was decent stuff, with just a split second of slowness on the conundrum to regret.  But I'd done enought for a comfortable win regardless.

As usual, details after the jump.

Round 1: E R N M T I A E S

Such good letters, but can they produce a nine?  I was hoping that final vowel would be an A for MARINATE (and then to MARINATES), but it was not to be.  Instead, I had TERM, MINTER, MINARET, and MINARETS / RAIMENTS.  With the final S bringing RETSINA into play there are many eights; after time I also found RESINATE / TRAINEES, MATINEES, and STEAMIER.

Christopher has INMATES for seven, but is outdone by Michael's choice of RAIMENTS.  As expected, the tournament Scrabble player knows his retsina words.  David has gone with MINARETS for his eight.

The other eights here are STEARINE (variant spelling of STEARIN, one of three esters of stearic acid) / ARSENITE ("a salt of any of the hypothetical arsenous acids"), EMIRATES, and ANTIMERE (listed as a synonym for ACTINOMERE: "a part corresponding to an opposite or similar part in an organism which is bilaterally or radially symmetrical"; e.g., the left and right halves of the human body).  And that last has an S left over, giving ANTIMERES as the full monty in this round.  A tough find, but plausible for someone who studies the retsina extensions.

Christopher: INMATES

Scores; Christopher 0, Michael 8, me 8

Round 2: R C M T O A U E L

I had ACTOR, CAROM, COURT, and CALUMET, still somewhat fresh in my memory after I failed to spot it in episode 383.  After time I ponder OUTRACE but recalled that it was invalid (I looked at this in episode 340, as it turns out), and note down sixes of AMULET, TALCUM, and LOCATE.

Each contestant has a five, with Michael opting for TRACE while Christopher went with LOCUM.  Richard asks David if this was a tough mix, and David rather bluntly says that it wasn't, but sometimes under the pressure a five is as good as you can get and you should lock it in.  I have to agree with that; sometimes you just struggle with what should be a decent mix.  Note, for instance, how the only word longer than a five that I saw was very obscure.  Meanwhile, David has found CLAMOUR for seven.

Some other sevens here are MOULTER, MORCEAU ("an excerpt or passage of poetry or music"), MORULAE (plural of MORULA: "the mass of cells, supposedly resembling a mulberry, resulting from the cleavage of the ovum before the formation of a blastula"), and COULTER ("a sharp blade or wheel attached to the beam of a plough, used to cut the ground in advance of the ploughshare").

But the overlooked eight is somewhat more common: EMULATOR.  The pressure of the moment, indeed.

Christopher: LOCUM
Michael: TRACE

Scores: Christopher 0 (5), Michael 8 (13), me 15

Round 3: Target 229 from 25 4 3 4 10 9

It's pretty easy to spot 229 = 9*25 + 4 from this mix, and both contestants joined me in doing so.  Lily had an alternative, though: 229 = (25 - 3)*10 + 9.

Christopher: 229
Michael: 229
Me: 229
Lily: 229

Scores: Christopher 10 (15), Michael 18 (23), me 25

First break: STORE FRY ("Attempt to study the trees")

The attempt is the TRY of FORESTRY.

David's talk is about the Kitchen Table Lingo collection of The English Project.  This is about finding interesting highly localised words used by individual families for particular concepts.  (I do find that the term floordrobe does resonate somewhat.)

Round 4: H N T D O A U E B

I had DOTH, HAUNT, and HAUNTED.  We've had ICEBOUND on the show before, so it amused me to wonder about HEATBOUND, but not seriously.  Just after time expired I paid attention to the UN- fragment and saw UNBATHED, although I'm not sure I would have risked it.

Christopher has HOUND for five, but Michael has made the good find of HANDOUT for seven.  David has followed my lines of thought (but faster, as usual) and confirms that UNBATHED is listed in the dictionary.

Two good word rounds have given Michael a 15 point lead.  Christopher has some work to do!

Christopher: HOUND
Michael: HANDOUT

Scores: Christopher 10 (15), Michael 25 (30), me 32

Round 5: S C W N I A I E L

After the first four consonants went up I was thinking that WINCES would probably be there.  I had SWAIN, WINCES, and LIAISE.  I saw a few other sixes in passing (such as ALIENS / SALINE and CLEANS / LANCES) but did not write them down.

Both contestants are thinking along similar lines with WINCES, but David has made the excellent find of LAICISE ("to deprive of clerical character or status").  Nice one, David!

There are two other sevens here: SANICLE (a herb) and SALICIN (a chemical).  Some sources give SALICINE as a variant spelling of SALICIN, but not the Macquarie, so seven seems to be the limit.

Christopher: WINCES
Michael: WINCES

Scores:Christopher 16 (21), Michael 31 (36), me 38

Round 6: Target 301 from 100 25 4 6 8 8

Michael goes for the family mix and turns up many even numbers.  That can make getting to an odd target difficult; in this case it seems clear that keeping the pair of eights for the final one is the way to go.  (If we needed a 3, then 4*6/8 might be appropriate.)  With that in mind the question is just how to get to 300 with the rest, and I found the solution 301 = 4*(100 - 25) + 8/8.  Just now I have seen an alternative: 301 = 6*(25 + 100/4) + 8/8.

Both contestants have found the odd target difficult from those numbers, ending up one away in different directions.  Michael went for 300 = (4 - 8/8)*100, while Christopher had 302 = 8*25 + 100 + 6 - 4.  Lily is as accurate as ever, finding the first of the solutions that I listed.

Christopher: 302
Michael: 300
Me: 301
Lily: 301

Scores: Christopher 16 (28), Michael 31 (43), me 48

Second break: CHAIN PAD ("Helpful headware")

The clue leads to HANDICAP.

Round 7: T K S R A O E D S

I had STARK, ROAST, and ROASTED.  It seems clear that one should discard the K, but I was not able to turn the rest into an eight.

It's sixes from the contestants, with Christopher having DRAKES while Michael has SOAKED.  David notes that there were several sevens to be found, such as STROKES, SOAKERS, and DARKEST.  He has gone one better by doing what I could not and found ASSORTED.  That's bothersomely common; I hope I see it if it turns up again.

The other eight here is an anagram of ASSORTED: TORSADES (TORSADE: "a twisted cord").  It's possible I may find that easier to remember as TORSADE is an anagram of ROASTED.

I think this is the "what might have been" round, as there were some pretty findable sevens.  Michael is still 15 points ahead but if he'd seen a seven he would have been safe at this point.  Christopher has demonstrated an ability to come through with good numbers solutions in a pinch, and he needs one now.

Christopher: DRAKES
Michael: SOAKED

Scores: Christopher 16 (34), Michael 31 (49), me 55

Round 8: Target 934 from 75 25 4 5 6 6

Michael stays with the family mix, but a large target could pose problems.  It is tempting to get to 900 as either 9*100 or 12*75; I tried the latter first and the solution fell out easily: 934 = (6 + 6)*75 + 25 + 5 + 4.  Just as time was running out I experimented with a technique that should be part of the arsenal of any player who likes the four large numbers, and found another solution: 934 = (25*75 + 5)/(6 - 4) - 6.

Michael is three away with 931; I'm genuinely lost as to how he can have that.  It looks like it must be 925 + 6, but that is a lot harder to form than it looks.  The best candidate I have is 931 = (6 + 5)*75 + 4*25 + 6; that's an impressive effort, and a shame it wasn't better rewarded (if that was what he had, of course).

It's in vain, though, as Christopher has found the first solution I gave (it's also the solution that Lily found).  That gives him a chance going into the conundrum.

Christopher: 934
Michael: 931
Me: 934
Lily: 934

Scores: Christopher 26 (44), Michael 31 (49), me 65


I feel a bit slow off the mark, as I focus on the G instead of the -IVE that would have been more directly helpful.  I still found the solution and paused a little over three seconds in.  I beat the buzzer, but the frozen video shows that Christopher's panel has lit up.  Once again I've been beaten to the conundrum by the merest fraction of a second.  His answer is correct, and gives him a hard-earned victory and a chance at the finals.

Christopher: DIGESTIVE (3.5s)
Michael: [no answer]
Me: DIGESTIVE (3.5s)

Final scores: Christopher 36 (54), Michael 31 (49), me 65

A great comeback from Christopher after some excellent word finds from Michael gave him what could have been a decisive lead.  Michael could have sealed it by finding longer words in round 7 or round 2, but equally Christopher could have gained back ground there.  Good performances from each contestant tonight, and a gripping finish to the game.

For selfish reasons it is not so good for me; if Christopher wins his next game then he will push me out of the finals.  Still, we shall see what tomorrow brings...

1 comment:

Sam Gaffney said...

Yes Geoff, I have studied the retsina extensions, and as with SEPTARIAN, I missed this one. I even remembered that there WAS one for RETAINS+ME, I have a mnemonic with the twins from the Simpsons putting their hands up saying "me, me". But after 30 seconds, I could not for the life of me get close to ANTIMERES, it is an obscure one. And yes, I have no life.

Well done to Christopher beating a Scrabble guy, good conundrum solve. My answers:

229 = 25*9 + 4
301 = (100-25)*4 + 8/8
934 = (75*25+5) / (6-4) - 6 [a]
DIGESTIVE (17~18s)

[a] Such a shame that the elaborate solution was not needed.