Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Ep 417: Ben Fisher, Ian Wanless (April 3, 2012)

As you may recall from last night, Ben has trekked through Africa.  He was there during New Year's Eve of 2006, and celebrated much as one might expect.  When he woke up the next day he thought that he had a terrible hangover, but as the day progressed delirium and fever set in; he found out at the end of the day that he had actually contracted malaria.  But he went to the snake clinic and was given some four-month old medicine, and was good within twenty-four hours.

I recognised tonight's challenger from early opening shots, although it has probably been twenty years since I last saw him.  It's mathematician Ian Wanless, who represented Australia in the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1987 (the year prior to me).  He works in the field of combinatorics, which he jokes is the methods of counting when you run out of fingers and toes.  Ian adds that people might have done permuations and combinations at school, and that's the start, but then you move on to more advanced techniques.  He mentions that it has a lot of applications, such as gene sequencing, designing codes for communication, and experiments with physical trials.  More information about some of it may be on his homepage.

It's decent wordwork from both contestants tonight, with sixes and sevens throughout.  Ben finds the longer words, but Ian gets back some of that ground in the first numbers game to stay in contention.  Ian tries the six small option in the second numbers game but the target is impossible to score on.  He tries it again a second time, and is unfortunately a touch too slow to get a solution down; Ben outscores him and is safe going into the conundrum.  Ben rounds out a good night's play by solving that conundrum after seven seconds, and is a deserved winner by 53 to 26.

I was on track for most of this, but I tried an archaism in one round that unfortunately turns out not to have made it into the Macquarie.  Two other rounds offered longer words than I found, one of them relatively common but not mentioned by David.  I finished it off with my fastest conundrum solution for a long time (subjectively, at least), and a comfortable win.

Round 1: L T R E A F I A T

I had ALERT, FALTER, and FLATTER.  I thought of this at first as a comparative, but then realised it was also a verb and so unquestionably fine.

Ian has chosen LATTER, but Ben has put the F at the front for FLATTER.  David had FLATTER and FLITTER, but managed to push further to find the only eight: FILTRATE.  Well done, David!

The other sevens are FATTIER, FLATTIE (colloquial for "a flat-bottomed dinghy"), ARIETTA ("a short aria"), and TERTIAL (both an adjective and a noun, referring to certain feathers of a bird's wing).


Scores: Ben 7, Ian 0, me 7

Round 2: M I U I K S D E L

I had SKIM, MUSED, SLIMED, DISLIKE, and wondered about MISLIKED.  I knew that MISLIKE was a verb with meaning essentially the same as DISLIKE, but it felt a bit old and the sort of thing that the Macquarie might leave out.  In the end I decided to chance it, but it turns out not to be in the Macquarie; it is in my Chambers, marked as archaic as expected.  Bother.

This time both contestants have sixes; Ben has SMILED and Ian has MILKED, but David has found DISLIKE for seven.

The other seven is MILIEUS.  In my recent comments on episode 415 I mentioned that SEDILIA was the plural of SEDILE; some sources appear to have backformed that to the singular SEDILIUM.  Not the Macquarie, though (nor Chambers or the OED).

Me: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 13, Ian 6, me 7

Round 3: Target 697 from 25 50 5 5 3 7

If one aims to get the target exactly, then part of the process is clear: Get to 700 and subtract the 3, which means needing to get to 100 from 25, 50, 5, 5.  I spent far too long staring at that before I finally saw 697 = 7*(50 + 25 + 5*5) - 3.

Ben was not able to get close, but Ian managed three away with 700 = (50 + 25 - 5)*(3 + 7).  If he had simply subtracted the remaining 5 he would have been one closer.  Lily has thought along similar lines to me, but seen the simpler way to that 100: 697 = (25 - 5)*5*7 - 3.  Nice one, Lily!

Ben: [not in range]
Ian: 700
Me: 697
Lily: 697

Scores: Ben 13, Ian 6 (13), me 17

First break: AROMA CON ("A sweet treat")

A straight clue for MACAROON, which reminds me that MasterChef Australia is starting up again in a few weeks.

David's talk is about fete and some related words, including hoopla.

Round 4: R B T O I O N C A


Ian has ACTION for six, but Ben has outdone him again with the good seven of ROBOTIC.  David chose CARTOON for his seven.

The other sevens are ORATION, CAROTIN (alternative spelling of CAROTENE), and TABORIN ("a small tabor").  But there is an eight here: ABORTION.  I speculate that David did see this but chose not to declare it so as to avoid any controversy.


Scores: Ben 20, Ian 6 (13), me 24

Round 5: R S D E A N E I P

This was very much a "build as you go" mix, as I had REDS, READS, SNARED, ENDEARS, NEARSIDE, and SPRAINED for another eight.  A good set of letters, but no nine to be had.

Both contestants have found sevens, Ian with PRAISED and Ben with ENDEARS.  David has found SPRAINED for his eight.

The other eights are ARSENIDE and AIRSPEED.

There is some byplay here as David suggests that a future fete event might be a SERNA DIP, which involves Lily sitting on a ducking stool.  At the end of the show Richard asks Lily whether she has any suggestions for such a fete, and Lily suggests a "jumping Astle", which she adds would be self-inflated.  Much merriment all round.


Scores: Ben 20 (27), Ian 6 (20), me 32

Round 6: Target 899 from 7 4 1 1 2 5

Ian is of the opinion that the most challenging mix is the most interesting, so he chooses six small numbers.  There's something to be said for that point of view, but the strong danger of it is that the resulting target is completely ungettable, and that is the case here.  It's not hard to see that the maximum possible total one can get is 560 = 7*4*5*2*(1 + 1), well short of the target (by 339 points, making this the "most impossible" target that I think I've seen on the show).

I feel this was poor strategy from Ian from the point of view of winning, but I certainly endorse going for the choices that one likes.

Not surprisingly, neither contestant was within range, although Ben overstates his efforts when he says that he was "about 140 away".

Ben: [not in range]
Ian: [not in range]
Me: [not in range]

Scores: Ben 20 (27), Ian 6 (20), me 32

Second break: DEAR POET ("Worked with surgical precision")

Another straight clue for OPERATED.

Round 7: T C R A U A Y S O

The mix starts out all right, but gets less helpful as it went on.  I had CART, and ACTUARY.  I also wrote down CRUSTY, perhaps miscounting it as seven at first.  I'd speculatively written down CURATE and then ARCUATE in expectation of an E arriving, but it did not oblige.

Both contestants have found sixes, with Ian going for CRUSTY and Ben selecting CARATS.  David has accurately found ACTUARY, and mentions that he was hoping for a final consonant and an N for SANCTUARY.  Nice vision from David -- that's the only potential full monty at that point.

The other sevens are SURCOAT / TURACOS (types of birds) and OSTRACA (plural of OSTRACON: "a pottery shard used in antiquity as a means of casting a vote").


Scores: Ben 20 (33), Ian 6 (26), me 39

Round 8: Target 219 from 7 4 5 10 7 2

Ian persists with the six small mix, and gets a much better spread of small numbers this time.  I flailed a bit and almost resigned myself to simply getting close when I saw that I could tweak my partial into a full solution: 219 = (4*5 + 2)*10 - 7/7.  I feel a bit lucky, because I was very close to getting lost in increasingly unprofitable lines.

In contrast, after time it seemed like whatever I tried just worked.  The target is 3*73, leading fairly easily to 219 = (7 - 4)*(7*10 + 5 - 2), or the corresponding variant that swaps the two ways of making three.  A little tweaking from above yielded 219 = 4*(5*10 + 7) - 7 - 2, and then I looked at the target as 210 + 9, since 210 has many factors (it is 2*3*5*7) which makes it very profitable to try.  That led to two more solutions, depending on how the nine was made: 219 = 7*5*(10 - 4) + 7 + 2, and 219 = 10*(2*7 + 7) + 5 + 4.

There's actually many more ways, but I'm trying to highlight the difference that the time pressure makes; once it was over the solutions just flowed to me.

Ian has a regretful 217; he was writing as time ran out, and later mentions that he had seen the solution but not been able to get it down.  Ben, however, has done well to find the same solution that I did, and gets an unbeatable lead going into the conundrum.  Lily has also done it the same way.

There's actually quite a few ways to get to the target, but there's only two that don't need all six numbers.  Interested readers may wish to try and find them.

Ben: 219
Ian: 217
Me: 219
Lily: 219

Scores: Ben 30 (43), Ian 6 (26), me 49


I saw the answer immediately, which makes a very welcome change.  Ben solves it at the seven second mark to push past the half century again, and seal the win in emphatic fashion.

Ian: [no answer]

Final scores: Ben 30 (53), Ian 6 (26), me 59

This game could well have been closer, but it feels like Ian shot himself in the foot with his numbers choices.  Ben's form with the words was clearly better, however, and that conundrum would likely have sealed his victory regardless.  Ben is showing some good all-round skills so far, and I hope he can keep it up tomorrow.

I am still pretty happy after that fast conundrum, of course.  A bit irked about MISLIKED not being in the dictionary, but I did have the best option written down.  So in a sense I was only off the pace on two rounds here, and overall that means a pretty good game.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game already.


Mark said...

Well done, Geoff.

3. 697 = 7*(50 + 25 + 5*5) - 3
6. -
8. 216 = 4*5*10 + 7 + 7 + 2
9. -

I'm surprised that David felt the need to avoid saying "abortion".

Sam Gaffney said...

I was a bit tired and distracted this episode, and would have only just scraped in against Ben, been thumped by Geoff, and lost by one to Mark, all three of whom played well.

I got lost down the wrong rabbit holes on both the solvable numbers targets, which was very disappointing. At least I nailed Round 6.

It is interesting that contestants often seem to get beaten on "rat packs" when they choose them, for whatever reason.

My answers:

695 = (7+3)*(50+25-5)-5
(out of range) 560 = 7*5*4*2*(1+1)
221 = (7*4-5)*10-7-2

Geoff Bailey said...

Wow, great game from you tonight, Mark -- you were ahead of me by 22 points after four rounds, and it took the conundrum for me to edge ahead. FILTRATE in particular was excellent.

(Plus, of course, you would have beaten both contestants.)

I should emphasise that I don't know that that was David's thinking; he may simply not have seen it. These kind of oversights do happen on occasion. But I'm also prepared to believe that he decided to err on the side of caution in this instance. Only he knows.

Yes, well done on nailing round 6, Sam. *chuckles* A decidedly atypical set of numbers rounds from you, which I don't imagine will be repeated any time soon. I'll note that I solved my rat pack when I was on the show... although it was an easy target, admittedly.

Mark said...

Thanks Geoff.

I thought the same thing, that David probably saw ABORTION but chose not to say it, because it seems extremely unlikely that he would have missed it. Maybe the producers asked him to go with another word.