Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ep 421: Ben Fisher, Mathew Thomas (April 9, 2012)

Rounds: Here.

Win or lose, this is Ben's last night for a while.  Richard notes that Ben has solved the last four conundrums, and has done a lot of tweakage in his numbers rounds.  Ben says that when he first started watching the show he could never get the numbers, but Lily's tutelage has managed to teach him tweaking.  Lily is pleased by that, as you would expect.

Tonight's challenger is Mathew Thomas, a taxi driver and teacher.  The teaching that he does is English as a second language; he calls it "survival English", enough to allow the students to catch trams, fill in forms... to do the everyday things that native English speakers here might take for granted.

Ben gets off to a poor start, with an invalid word in the first round.  He somehow ends up with nothing to declare in the first numbers round, and when Mathew finds a good word to outscore him in the next round, Ben is 18 points adrift.  That possibly pushes him into trying for too much, and his next round is also invalid; he gets some back in the next two rounds but still needs to outpoint Mathew in the final numbers round to have a chance.  He makes an error in the accounting, though, and Mathew is safe going into the conundrum.  It proves to be too tough for both contestants, and Mathew takes the win, 32 to 21.

I had a decent game, but could not find the high notes.  Rounds two and three were the disappointing ones where I should definitely have done better.  Once more I was slow on the conundrum, but at least it was closer this time -- just over forty seconds, as it turns out.  It was all enough for a comfortable win, but still plenty of room for improvement.

Round 1: S F C T A E E H I

I had FACTS, FACETS, CHASTE, disliked ACHIEST, and TEACHES.  I seemed to recall having checked up on ACHIEST before and finding it was not there, which is why I pushed for another seven.  After time I added FETCHES and the safe anagram of ACHIEST: AITCHES.  I wondered about ATHEISE (by analogy with catholocise, it would presumably mean to make someone into an atheist), but was not at all surprised that it is not listed.

Both contestants declare sevens; Mathew has chosen FETCHES, but Ben has tried FAECIES and that is not the correct spelling (which is FAECES).  Mathew gets the early lead, but there's plenty of time left.  David has opted for TEACHES as his seven.

The other sevens are CATFISH, TECHIES, FITCHES (FITCH being the European polecat), and the lovely ESCHEAT ("(formerly) the reversion of land to the feudal lord or the Crown in the absence of heirs of the owner"; it is also an associated verb, thus allowing the -S and -ED extensions).

There are two eights, however: CHIEFEST / FETICHES.  CHIEFEST takes advantage of the single-syllable rule for superlatives but would be generally acceptable regardless (it gets a mention in Chambers, for instance); FETICH is an alternative spelling of FETISH.

Ben: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 0, Mathew 7, me 7

Round 2: M O U S I A R L E

Mathew really, really wants that E, and is not stopping until he gets it.  Fair enough, I guess, but it might not have looked that good if it had not arrived.  I had MIAOUS, MORULAE (which I've mentioned several times recently), REALISM, MOUSIER, and LOUSIER.  Taking the time to write down all those sevens was probably a mistake, as shortly after time ran out I saw MORALISE for eight.

Again both contestants declare sevens, and this time Ben's choice of MOUSIER is fine; Mathew is also on track with LOUSIER.  Meanwhile, David has found a pair of eights: MORALISE and SOLARIUM.

The other eight is RAMULOSE ("having many small branches").  There's a few other sevens, too: MOILERS, MISRULE, MAULERS, SIMULAR ("someone or something that simulates", although that meaning is marked as archaic; it can also be an adjective meaning "simulated"), and the possibly risky plurals MORALES and UREMIAS (UREMIA being a variant spelling of URAEMIA: "the morbid condition resulting from the retention of urinary constituents").


Scores: Ben 7, Mathew 14, me 14

Round 3: Target 883 from 50 5 4 6 1 9

Ben tries just a single large number for a change, and is unfortunate enough to get a difficult target; that won't endear that mix to him.  I did something very foolish here, starting along one line and realising that it would not get me exactly to the target, then ending up with a fallback that was further away than that line would have led me to.

The first step was obviously to look at the nearest multiple of 50; that is 900, which is 18*50.  The difference is 17 which does not have convenient factors, so we want to conserve that 1 if possible.  I started with (9 + 5 + 4)*50, then realised that I could not tweak my way to the target; I should have written down the one-away that it gives, however: 882 = (9 + 5 + 4)*(50 - 1).  Instead I chased after variants that were even less profitable and used up that 1 also, but with time running out I had to settle on two away: 885 = (4 - 1)*(6*50 - 5).

After time I found a good many other one-aways; it turns out that the target is impossible.  So in chasing after the impossible I lost the optimal, which was careless.  As I have mentioned before, I think that facing this dilemma is a desirable part of the numbers rounds, and why random targets are better than guaranteed-achievable ones.

Ben is nowhere near, which is a bit surprising to me -- there's a fair few ways to 900 with numbers left over to tweak with.  I can only guess that he tried for too much like I did, but without a fallback to get down.  In contrast, Mathew is at the edge of the scoring range with 893 = (5 + 4 + 9)*50 - 6  - 1, but that's still good enough for five points.  I'm sure that Ben looked at that solution and saw how to tweak it to the 882 mentioned above; it would have levelled the scores had he seen that, but instead he is 12 points behind.

Lily has not been able to get closer than 882, of course.

Ben: [no answer]
Mathew: 893
Me: 885

Scores: Ben 7, Mathew 14 (19), me 21

First break: FIBRE DEN ("Be a buddy, pal, chum...")

Which is to say, BEFRIEND.

David's talk is about euphemisms, and the euphemism treadmill.

Round 4: B D M C I A U S I

Mathew goes chasing for an E again, but this time he does not get it.  I was hoping for a final consonant, with a couple of potential element words in the mix: SCANDIUM and CADMIUMS.  As it was, I had MAID, MUSIC, and IAMBUS (same as IAMB, a metrical unit in prosody).  After time I noted CUBISM as another six.

Mathew is going to try a six, and Ben sounds a little defeated as he declares "just a five".  He has MUSIC for his five, but Mathew has found CUBISM for six, and an 18 point lead.  That's looking very ominous for Ben...

David gives a rather ominous stare himself at Mathew's word, but it apparently was intended to be an awestruck face.  He says this is one of the toughest mixes for a while, and finding CUBISM was quite a feat, and the best that he could do.  David adds, "There may be a seven there; there may be an eight.  But I could not find it.  Great effort."

It's obviously not the most friendly mix; the other sixes are MUSCID (any fly of the Muscidae family), AMIDIC (the adjective from AMIDE, one of a class of ammonia derivatives), and IAMBIC (the adjective derived from IAMB).  But IAMBIC is also a noun, an alternative form of IAMB, and that makes part of David's prediction correct: IAMBICS is a valid seven.

It's not the only one, though.  The other two are DIBASIC ("containing two ionisable hydrogen ions, as dibasic acid"), and SUBACID ("slightly or moderately acid or sour [...]").  I've seen this latter a few times when checking on words, but I see that I've not mentioned it in this blog yet, so presumably that was while playing Countdown episodes.  In any case, it's obviously not stuck yet -- I did look at the SUB- beginning but missed this.

The second part of David's prediction also turns out to be correct -- in fact, there are two eights.  Kind of surprising from such an awkward mix!  They are ASCIDIUM ("Botany a bag-like or pitcher-shaped part") and BASIDIUM, which... well, hopefully Wikipedia's explanation is helpful.

Mathew: CUBISM

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

Round 5: P S G N A E A I H

I had PANGS, SHAPING / PHASING, and wondered about HEAPINGS.  I really didn't like it, but I wasn't certain; I did end up deciding against it, though, and was relieved to see that I'd made the right decision.  After time I amused myself with PAGANISE, following on from my thought of ATHEISE in the first round.  I added PAGANISH as a more plausible speculative entry, and was quite surprised to find out that both were valid.

Ben has gone for HEAPINGS, alas, while Mathew has SHAPING for seven.  I can sympathise with Ben on this front -- he had not heard Mathew's declaration but it was very likely to be a seven -- but this was not the right risk to take.  He can still hope to make up the gap on a numbers round and the conundrum, but if he drops more than twenty points behind it is going to be much, much harder.  And that risky declaration has done just that, putting him 25 points adrift.

David has found PAGANISE; nice one, David!

PAGANISE and PAGANISH seem to be the only eights.  The other sevens are HEAPING, HASPING / PASHING, and SAPHENA ("either of two large superficial veins of the leg [...]"; its plural is SAPHENAE, incidentally).

This round could have had a full monty; staying with three vowels would have replaced the I with an L, allowing PHALANGES (one plural of PHALANX) for nine.

Ben: [invalid]

Scores: Ben 7, Mathew 27 (32), me 34

Round 6: Target 261 from 100 10 7 9 10 3

Mathew also goes for a single large number, and gets a low target and a reasonable spread of small numbers.  I made heavy weather of it, though, as I spotted the factor of 9 and tried for too long to make the requisite 29 to multiply it by.  I had to abandon that, and then tried 3*87 instead and found that the 87 was much more manageable, giving me the solution 261 = 3*(100 - 10 - 10 + 7).  As time was running out I saw the easier alternative, but only got it down after expiry: 261 = 3*(100 - 10) - 9.

Mathew has ended up three away with 264; this is most likely 264 = 3*100 - 10 - 10 - 9 - 7.  If so, that shows a similar lack of tweaking awareness as his first numbers round, and would certainly hearten me if I were in Ben's seat.

Ben is one away with 260 = (9 - 7)*(100 + 3*10), and gets seven much-needed points.  But if he'd considered coming down from 300 instead, he should surely have found the second solution that I listed above, which was also Lily's approach.  The thinking should go something like this: 261 is 39 away from 300 = 3*100, which is easy to form.  39 is 30 + 9 = 3*10 + 9, and we have all of those numbers.  The only problem is that we've used the 3 twice, but in a way which tweaking solves easily.  Thus 261 = 3*(100 - 10) - 9.

Ben: 260
Mathew: 264
Me: 261
Lily: 261

Scores: Ben 7 (14), Mathew 27 (32), me 44

Second break: NICE DINT ("It's good to get through without one")

It's probably good to avoid INCIDENT, indeed.

Round 7: L C S O O E D N K

About time we saw some more O's -- it's been quite biased towards A and I so far.  I had COLS, COOL (I was only thinking of the adjective sense, not the verb, so I missed COOLS), CLOSE, CLOSED, and CONSOLED / CONDOLES.  That final K brought nothing useful to the picture, so there it stayed.

Ben laughs as he admits that he is going to be risky once more; he certainly can't be accused of being cautious!  But his seven of CLONKED turns out to be good, and takes the points over Mathew's six of COOKED.  That puts him a tantalising 11 points behind, and if he'd played it a bit safer in round five the difference would be only 4.

David has found CONSOLED for eight.  The other sevens here are CONDOLE, CONSOLE, NOODLES, and SECONDO ("the second or lower part in a duet, especially in piano duets").

This round could also have produced a full monty; choosing a final vowel instead might have given an A for CANOODLES or an I for COLONISED.  On the other hand, that final consonant could have been an R for CONDOLERS; the odds are actually very finely balanced as to which is more likely since there have already been many A's and I's and only one R, but they come out just barely in favour of the vowel.

Mathew: COOKED

Scores: Ben 7 (21), Mathew 27 (32), me 52

Round 8: Target 788 from 25 75 1 8 3 1

Mathew shows sound judgement in going with the family mix, since an easy numbers game will guarantee him the win.  But the result is a large target that should very much favour Ben, as there is plenty of tweaking potential.  The obvious first approach was to work down from 800, and the smalls lent themselves well to it: 788 = 8*(75 + 25 - 1) - 3 - 1.  After time I spotted another option, as that 800 could also be formed from 11*75 - 25, and the smalls lend themselves to that tweak also: 788 = (8 + 3)*(75 - 1) - 25 - 1.

Ben stops writing and leans back at the sixteen second mark, which I've mentioned before that I dislike but is also a hopeful sign for him.  He glances down at the pad occasionally as time runs out, but is mostly looking elsewhere.  Mathew has been working up until the end, but before he can get a declaration out he realises that he has miscalculated and has nothing to declare.  Even better for Ben -- anything in the scoring range gives him a chance at the conundrum (and the actual amount is irrelevant).

Ben declares 788 as expected, but he starts out with (8 + 1 + 1)*75, and that's doom right there.  He realises it, too, saying that he has miscalculated -- his full answer was (8 + 1 + 1)*75 + 25 + 3, but that is 778, not 788.  No points for Ben, and Mathew is guaranteed the win.

My sympathy here is blunted by how much time he had to check his working, or even find and write down an alternative.  With almost half the time left on the clock it was eminently possible to do so; even simply catching his error and changing the total to 778 would have scored him five crucial points.

Lily is on target, using the first of the solutions that I listed.

Ben: [invalid]
Mathew: [no answer]
Me: 788
Lily: 788

Scores: Ben 7 (21), Mathew 27 (32), me 62


A mildly anteclimactic conundrum after all that, but it proves challenging.  The -ING option was easy to dismiss as it did not play well with the Y.  -INGLY was more tempting, but the few remaining combinations were also easy to get rid of.  It is almost always the case that the Y goes at the end, and I tried -ITY but nothing came of it.  I moved on to -IVE and -LY, but time ran out with no-one finding the answer.

With the backup clock started, I ended up looking at -ITY again and this time found LONGEVITY fairly easily (total time: 41 seconds).  Oh, well.

Ben: [no answer]
Mathew: [no answer]
Me: [no answer]

Final scores: Ben 7 (21), Mathew 27 (32), me 62

Ben was in very erratic form today; maybe he did not sleep well, or perhaps it was final game nerves.  With two invalid words and failing to score on two numbers rounds (one of which was also invalid) it was always going to be a struggle, and Mathew was good enough to make him pay for those errors.  Mathew did quite well on the letters -- it was only on the last of those rounds that I managed to outdo him, as an indicator -- but seems very catchable on the numbers.

Ben was playing at well below his best tonight, and it cost him the game.  So very little needed to change for him to escape with a win; the most obvious was the first numbers game, where getting within five of the target would have given a 12 point turnaround... just enough for victory.  Seven points were there if he had not risked HEAPINGS, and five or more from the final numbers round.  There were lots of things that Ben could have done differently to get the win, but he was fortunate enough to have his bad game be his sixth rather than (say) his first, and will almost certainly still make the finals.  Many other good contestants have been less fortunate in that regard.

Mathew's continuing performance in the game may well highlight the different scoring opportunities between the letters and the numbers.  If he can outdo someone on the letters but is in turn outdone on the numbers then the games could end up very close.  (As a demonstration: In this three-cornered game, I scored 27 points from the numbers, which was Mathew's total score.  Admittedly, he was denied six points in one letters round, but it's reasonable to assume that at least one round will be tied.)  I'll be interested to see how tomorrow plays out, but that's pretty much true of every game. *chuckles*


Mark said...

Well done, Geoff. It wasn't a very good game for me.

3. -
6. 260 = 100*(9-7) + 3*(10+10)
8. 788 = 8*(25+75-1) - 3 - 1
9. -

Sam Gaffney said...

I thought HEAPINGS was a pretty solid word, it sounds like something from a British children's book (they had heapings of sugar on their pudding). Unfortunately its rejection cost Ben his retirement. It wasn't his best game, if he was anything like me, he struggled to sleep after the adrenalin and caffeine of a TV debut and five episodes in one day. Along with a pleasant modest demeanour, Ben showed a lot of ability in all three components of the show, and it will be interesting to see how he goes in the finals, for which he will probably qualify.

It was a good performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as "Mathew", particularly with letters.

Round 4 was painful, I barely got a five down in time, but saw IAMBUS a little afterwards.

My answers:
882 = (50-1)*(9+4+5)
261 = (100-10)*3 - 9
788 = (75+25-1)*8 - 3 - 1
(About two minutes, a brutal one)

Geoff Bailey said...

Still some good points in there, Mark; particularly that tweaking to get 788 -- well done!

Sam: Round four was a brutal mix, even with those surprisingly long words hiding in it.

I agree with you about HEAPINGS, but more often it was "lashings", at least in the various Enid Blyton books. When you try to substitute HEAPINGS into such a sentence it doesn't quite work; "heaps" is much more plausible.

Of course, all this takes more time than one generally has. I'm trying to trust my instinct more about what is and is not valid, and mostly it is working for me.

Sam Gaffney said...

I am going to sit down and read every Enid Blyton book cover-to-cover until I've proven you wrong, Geoff.

Geoff Bailey said...

*grins* I heartily endorse this plan of yours, Sam.