Saturday, 7 April 2012

Ep 420: Ben Fisher, Zaid Abbas (April 6, 2012)

Rounds: Here.

This is Ben's fifth night, and a win here will almost certainly earn him a place in the finals.  Ben went to Glasgow over the Christmas/New Year period to attend the wedding of some of his friends.  They kitted him up in the full kilt and his family's heritage tartan.  Richard lists the components of such dress and Ben agrees that they had him in all that "... and not much more".  Heh.

Tonight's challenger is Zaid Abbas, a software engineer.  Zaid plays "three or four" instruments, but has never had formal musical training.  He learned the keyboard when he was very young, just playing by ear -- he would listen to a song and then emulate it.  From there he kept building up his repertoire, moving on to more complicated songs.  Since then he has picked up the guitar, and drums, and is hoping to expand further.

There were good moments from both contestants tonight; the numbers targets were all high, but the contestants were always close with Zaid having slightly the better of it.  Unfortunately for Zaid, three of his words were invalid and Ben outscored him on the others, and that was just too much ground to give up.  One of those invalid words could easily have been the optimal answer (more on this in round 5), though, as he had found a good word.  Ben also found a great word in the last letters round and was really fast on the conundrum once more, to take a comprehensive 60 to 24 win.

I was off-kilter all night; whatever I did today that affected me, I hope I avoid it in the future.  I blanked badly on the first round, found an excellent word on the second, then went chasing after the wrong thing in the next numbers round and ending up declaring the wrong total.  The next three letters rounds should have produced eights but I missed them all, and I did not solve the conundrum either.  The last two numbers rounds were not enough to keep me out of trouble, and I ended up losing to Ben by a point.  That's right on the one-in-twenty mark that is my quota, but I'm still very disappointed by my performance since I was playing well below my best.

Round 1: R H S I E A P N E

I had HEIRS / HIRES, ARISE, PRAISE, and then hit a severe mental block.  I was a bit annoyed with Ben for choosing that final consonant -- a T would have allowed PERIANTHS for nine -- but I don't think that was the factor.  I just could not find the sevens.  With time about to expire I wrote down a desperate PANIERS, but I knew that I was actually thinking of PANNIERS and had to settle for the six.

After time I saw RAPINES (the seven I had been looking for from those letters) and SHARPEN.  Frustrating not to see them within time.

Ben has PHRASE for six, while Zaid declared a seven but realised that he had made a mistake before he revealed what it was.  David has found PHARISEE ("a pharisaic, self-righteous, or hypocritical person") for eight, although he had had to check that the lowercase version was listed.

There's quite a few sevens, as it turns out: PEAHENS, RESHAPE / HEAPERS, HERNIAS, SHARPIE (I mentioned this way back in episode 310; it is a type of boat), PERINEA (plural of PERINEUM), REPINES (frets) / EREPSIN (marked as obsolete for "a mixture of proteolytic enzymes [...] produced by the wall of the small intestine of vertebrates"), APERIES (plural of APERY: "apish behaviour; mimicry"), HEPARIN (mentioned recently in episode 407), and INHERES (INHERE: "to exist permanently and inseparably, as a quality, attribute, or element; belong intrinsically; be inherent") / HENRIES.

There's two entries in there warranting further comment.  Firstly, HEPARIN is probably pluralisable, which leads to the only other eight of HEPARINS.  Secondly, a HENRY is the SI derived unit for inductance, but the plural of it is explicitly marked as being HENRYS -- a very unexpected plural form to me.  However, HENRY is also listed as a lowercase synonym for "John Henry", an American colloquialism for a signature, apparently by confusion with "John Hancock".  It is this sense which has the explicitly-listed plural form of HENRIES.

Chambers lists SERAPHIN as an alternative spelling for XERAFIN ("a former silver coin of Goa"), but the Macquarie does not, so PHARISEE and (probably) HEPARINS are the only eights.

With all that said, it turns out that there is a nine here!  A SERAPHINE is "a 19th-century keyboard instrument similar to an American organ".

Oh, and (as I also remarked on episode 310) the tempting HARPIES is a very dangerous word to play.  Here are the definitions for HARPY in full:
harpy /'hapi/ noun 1. a rapacious, predatory person. 2. a bad-tempered, nagging woman; shrew. [from Harpy]

Harpy /'hapi/ noun (plural Harpies) Greek Legend a rapacious and filthy monster having a woman's head and a bird's body. [Latin harpyia, from Greek: literally, snatcher]
The uppercase version is not acceptable, but does list the plural form.  The lowercase version does not list the plural form, and because of the spelling shift that plural must be listed in order to count.  (The precedent for the spelling shift applying to plurals was finally set recently in episode 399, when Alan unsuccessfully tried AMITIES.)

There is a tiny amount of wriggle room here, because "harpy" is derived directly from "Harpy" by generalisation, so the plural form could be considered to be implicitly given by the other entry.  (Such an argument would not apply if the connection were less direct.)  I doubt that David would rule that way since it sets up future complications with precedent; the current (mostly) simple rule is much better, even when it produces horrible results like this.

The real culprit here is the Macquarie itself, of course.  The given meanings ("a [...] person", "a [...] woman") are obviously pluralisable, and it is a travesty that they do not list the plural form in this entry.

Zaid: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 6, Zaid 0, me 6

Round 2: L D C L O A O I M

After the first four letters I pondered COLLOID, and it did eventuate.  I thus had COLD, LOCAL, and COLLOID.  I was pretty happy with that find, making up somewhat for the previous round.

This time Zaid has CALL for four, but Ben has gone one better with CLAIM for five.  David has come through with COLLOID, and it is the best to be had.

There is one other seven: DOMICAL ("domelike"); the only six is AMIDOL (a chemical), and there are a few other fives with the common ones being MODAL and LILAC.

Zaid: CALL

Scores: Ben 6 (11), Zaid 0, me 13

Round 3: Target 934 from 75 50 10 4 9 3

I made the error of committing too much time to an approach that wasn't quite good enough, and I've only just realised now that I miscalculated the total; that cost me seven points and turned a bad game into a loss.  Ergh.

What I had written down was (4 + 3)*(75 + 50 + 10) = 935; my checking was too careless to pick up that this was actually 945.  If I had done so I could have subtracted the remaining 9 to end up two away, which would have still given me those seven points and salvaged the game: 936 = (4 + 3)*(75 + 50 + 10) - 9.

Worse, if I had managed to do the calculation correctly I might have realised that I could re-organise and tweak it to a genuine solution: 934 = (10 - 3)*(75 + 50 + 9) - 4.

Once again, though, I have paid the price for not paying enough attention to the standard method.  The target is 9 away from 925, and we have the 9, which should be a giant signal to try it this way.  After time I finally realised this and quickly found 934 = (10 + 4)*50 + 3*75 + 9 and 934 = (10 + 3)*75 - 50 + 9.

Ben declares 938, which I'm going to guess was 938 = (10 + 9)*50 - 4*3.  Zaid has managed to get two closer with 936 = 75*(9 + 3) + 50 - 10 - 4.  Lily has found another way to get the standard method to apply with 934 = (10 + 4 + 3)*50 + 75 + 9.

This round gets Zaid on the board, and back in contention.

Ben: 938
Zaid: 936
Me: [invalid]
Lily: 934

Scores: Ben 6 (11), Zaid 7, me 13

First break: BURN DUNE ("To take a load off")

A straight clue for UNBURDEN.

David's talk continues yesterday's numeric theme, this time with 404.  That's the HTTP status code for "Not Found", indicating that the webserver has been unable to find an item matching the request that was made of it.  (e.g., someone has tried to access a webpage that simply does not exist.)  If you've ever clicked on a link to something that no longer exists or was moved elsewhee (and you very likely have), then this is the status code reported.  David then relates the supposed origins of this number as the room number for the first webserver at CERN.

(Minor digression: It would have been cute if David had put this bit on Wednesday's show, as that was the fourth of April, or 4/04 as some might render it.)

However, I'm afraid that this talk is almost completely wrong.  It is not entirely David's fault -- the Macquarie likewise claims this origin for the number -- but anyone who has looked at the HTTP protocol knows that this is not just some apparently random number but one of a series of possible status codes that follow a particular format.  There is a certain similarity to the older FTP status codes, and it seems clear that the idea was modelled on them (and possibly even that there was some intent of compatibility with them where that would make sense).

That would still leave the possibility open that the numbering was deliberately chosen to make 404 have this meaning, but the nail in the coffin of this myth is that there is no room 404 in CERN: The rooms in building four are numbered starting at 410.  So rather appropriately, at CERN room 404 is... Not Found.

It's an amusing idea, but overall I'd prefer for dictionaries to be reliable, and I hope that the next edition of the Macquarie removes this incorrect explanation.

And now, back to the show...

Round 4: N S D H E U A T E

I had HENS, DUNES, HAUNTED, SAUTÉED, HEADSET, and briefly toyed with UNDEATHS but rightly rejected it.  After time I wrote down SHUNTED and that led me to ENTHUSED.  We had ENTHUSE turn up just recently, in episode 412, and I should have seen this within time.

Both contestants declare sevens; Ben has also opted for HAUNTED, but Zaid's choice of UNDATES is not valid and he slips further behind.  David has found HASTENED for eight, and also its anagram NETHEADS (NETHEAD: "someone who spends a lot of time surfing the internet").

The other eights are UNHEATED and UNSEATED, and that last makes me even less happy, as I found that back in episode 398.  Very disappointing to miss it this time.

The other sevens are HANDSET, ENTHUSE, ETHANES, and DASHEEN (another name for the taro, or at least one variety of it).

Zaid: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 13 (18), Zaid 7, me 20

Round 5: N C Q R I U A E S

I had RUNIC, SQUARE, and QUINCES.  I was having nagging feelings about missing something obvious throughout, but I think they were inaccurately trying to get me to see INSURANCE (which uses the N twice).  After time I noted CRUISE and ARSENIC.

Both contestants declare sevens again; Ben has QUINCES also, but Zaid's choice of ACQUIRES is actually eight letters long and so cannot count.  (I thought at one point that this was actually a spelling error rather than a counting one and that Zaid had AQUIRES, but on review his reactions do suggestion that it was a counting error.)  That's fifteen points difference right there at a time when he could ill afford to drop further behind.

David likewise has ACQUIRES, and it's the only eight.  I wish that I'd seen this, but honestly it was a tough spot, and a great find for Zaid.  If only he'd counted correctly...

Most of the other sevens use the Q, unusually enough; the exceptions are CARNIES and SAUCIER.  The remaining ones are ACQUIRE, CINQUES (CINQUE: "the five at dice, cards, etc."), CIRQUES (CIRQUE: "a circular space, especially a natural amphitheatre in mountains formed by glacial action"), and CAIQUES (CAIQUE: "a long, narrow skiff or rowing boat as used on the Bosporus").

Zaid: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 20 (25), Zaid 7, me 27

Round 6: Target 809 from 25 75 1 10 9 2

This time I avoid complicating it, and the standard method works easily: 809 = (10 - 2)*(75 + 25) + 9.  This is also the solution used by Ben and Lily, but Zaid has formed the 800 slightly differently to get 809 = 75*10 + 25*2 + 9.

Ben: 809
Zaid: 809
Me: 809
Lily: 809

Scores: Ben 30 (35), Zaid 17, me 37

Second break: GEAR ROAM ("Superseded by email")

I had to think about this a bit, which is a sign of the times, but did find AEROGRAM soon enough.

Round 7: M D T O E A E N F

I struggled badly with this round, getting just MODE, MOATED, DEMOTE, and with my mood dismal I also wrote down DEFEAT.  I just could not find a seven, but it turns out there is a good reason for that -- there aren't any!  Of course, I did not know that at the time, and my frustration probably got the better of me.  A pause after time ran out and I saw NEMATODE (a roundworm) for eight.

Zaid has DEMOTE for six, but Ben has found the only other eight: FOMENTED, and that's a great find -- well done, Ben!  He thought it was risky, but it was perfectly fine, of course.  David presumably also found it.

Ben is now 26 points ahead of Zaid and guaranteed the win.  He's also a point ahead of me (although while playing I thought I was six points ahead, as I had not caught my error on round 3 yet), which means that I cannot possibly be safe going into the conundrum.  Bother.


Scores: Ben 38 (43), Zaid 17, me 37

Round 8: Target 812 from 50 75 5 4 7 1

Another large target, and this time my complications pay off; I really wanted to the 875 that was there (7*125 = 875 is one of those handy things), and the difference is 63 which is also divisible by 7.  A quick tweak and the solution was there: 812 = 7*(75 + 50 - 5 - 4).  After time I realised that the factor of four could also have been pulled out, giving 812 = 7*4*(75 - 50 + 5 - 1).

In contrast, the standard method cannot get to the target; a good eye can use it to get within one, however: 811 = 50*(75/5 + 1) + 7 + 4.

Both contestants have tried to get there from 11*75, which has led them to 814; Zaid has used 814 = 75*(7 + 4) - 50/5 - 1, while Ben has tweaked his way there with 814 = (7 + 4)*(75 - 1).  Lily has used the same solution that I did.

That puts me in the lead by 9 points; at the time I thought it was 16 and that I was safe despite many misses.  Not so, alas.

Ben: 814
Zaid: 814
Me: 812
Lily: 812

Scores: Ben 38 (50), Zaid 17 (24), me 47


Too many vowel sounds, and I struggle to make anything useful out of it.  Ben buzzed in just short of four seconds into regulation time, and it took me a bit over a minute to see the answer.  Ben turned out to be correct, continuing his excellent conundrum form and pipping me by a point.

Ben: ITINERARY (3.5s)
Zaid: [no answer]
Me: [no answer]

Final scores: Ben 48 (60), Zaid 17 (24), me 47

Ben played very well tonight, with FOMENTED being the standout find.  His excellent conundrum speed means that he will be very tough to beat if it comes down to a conundrum decider, and it was certainly on display today.  Zaid also had some good play -- ACQUIRES was also an excellent spot -- but gave up too many points with those invalid answers.

Ben has won five games, with a total score of 273 points.  Assuming that he wins his next game that will put him into second position, and I would rate him as the best of the current contenders.

Ben played well, but I am still greatly disappointed in losing this game to him.  The first and third rounds were the worst instances, but the third letters round I should have done better on also.  Twenty-five points hinged on those rounds, and any one of them could have -- should have -- turned this loss into a win.

Ah, well, there's always next week...


Mark said...

Nice work on COLLOID, Geoff.

3. 936 = (9+3)*75 + 50 - 10 - 4
4. UNHEATED (I wasn't sure this was valid, so thanks for confirming)
6. 809 = (10-2)*(75+25) + 9
8. 814 = (4+7)*75 - 50/5 - 1
9. -

I don't think I've ever written down a numbers solution which was not on target and then improved on it during the 30 seconds. At my speed, there just doesn't seem to be time to find something better, let alone get it written down.

Have you contacted Macquarie and David to let them know they're wrong about 404?

Geoff Bailey said...

Congratulations on excellent results tonight, Mark -- UNHEATED and ACQUIRES are great finds. Ignoring round one you were six ahead of me, and five ahead of Ben, so the results depend on whether HARPIES is valid or not. If it is, you win both comfortably; otherwise you tie with me and go down to Ben by a point.

I'd meant to say something about HARPIES, so thanks for the implicit reminder. The trouble is that the Macquarie lists "harpy" without a plural given, so it should not be allowed since a spelling shift is required. i.e., it is implicitly asserted that "harpy" is not pluralisable (which is clearly ridiculous as the meaning is obviously pluralisable, but the Macquarie has many such oversights).

The complicating factor is that there is just below it an entry for "Harpy" (capitalised) which does give the plural form "Harpies". Although the capitalised versions are automatically invalid, there is just enough leeway in the combination that David might be able to rule in favour of "harpies" and remain consistent.

It's much safer to declare SHARPIE from the same letters, though.

Geoff Bailey said...

Also, thanks about COLLOID! I'd much rather have seen one of the eights, mind you... *chuckles*

With 404, I'm hopeful that David will read that post at some point; he obviously has much more "pull" with the Macquarie than I will. In my head I picture him accumulating anomalies and passing them on every so often to one of his contacts there.

Mark said...

Thanks for the information about HARPIES, Geoff. It didn't even cross my mind that it might be invalid. I wasn't aware of the word SHARPIE.

It's strange how different words "jump out" at different people. ACQUIRE came into my head as soon as the E appeared, but then there have been other times when I've missed a longer word that in hindsight seems obvious.

You wrote that you rate Ben as the best of the current contenders. Unless I've misunderstood you, that means you rate him more highly than Norm - I'd be interested to know your reasons for that.

Geoff Bailey said...

I was also surprised when I first checked up on HARPIES. The Macquarie can be quite fickle!

It may not be accurate to downrate Norm, but my perception of Norm's performance is skewed by him not being pushed that much. Four of the contestants he faced scored 6, 10, 13, and 16, and the impression that I was left with was that a lot of the time he missed some quite findable better answers -- it's just that his opponents also missed them, and often ended doing worse.

Now, I'm operating under lingering impressions here rather than trying to proeprly analyse it (which can wait until the finals are about to start); it may be that I am unfair in this assessment, and it may also be that the same can be said about Ben (but if so it is not nearly to the same extent). But that is my current "gut feeling" about the two.

Sam Gaffney said...

Luckily this wasn't a real episode for me, because I didn't stick to my safe seven in Round 1, and then had a dreadful number stuff-up in Round 3, which meant that Ben's strong game would have beaten me as well as Geoff.

My numbers form is starting to give me a complex. In Round 3, I started with (75-3)*(4+9) (which is 936), then got the numbers jumbled in my head and tacked on:
having to rush down an answer. The actual result of the final sum is 931, so it was invalid.

My answers:

(invalid - SERAPHIN, would you believe?!)
(invalid - explained above)
809 = (10 - 2)*(75 + 25) + 9
814 = (7+4)*75-50/5-1

Geoff Bailey said...

Wow... great eight-letter words in the middle section there, Sam. But those invalid choices were costly!

(I'll note that with the three-cornered scoring that I am using you would have tied with Ben rather than losing, as Zaid scored the points in round 3.)