Friday, 11 May 2012

Ep 94 [QF1]: Andrew Fisher, Esther Perrins (May 10, 2012; originally aired December 9, 2010)

Rounds: Here.

The repeat screenings kick off with the very first finals episode, episode 94 of series one.  That pitches some very impressive Scrabble players against each other, so it is sure to be a tough match.  My impression is that the first series of Letters and Numbers was particularly heavy on the tournament Scrabble players; presumably the show solicited interested players from the various Scrabble clubs.

Prior to this point, I have seen one episode of the first series -- Andrew Fisher's impressive debut game, which I believe is still the record for highest contestant score in a single game -- and the rest starting midway through series two.  This means that essentially all of the series one finalists are unknown quantities to me, although I know the reputations of Andrew and Naween.  From this incomplete sample set I will say that Andrew is the one player that I do not have any confidence about beating in a reasonable percentage of games; his word knowledge is just too good.  (I expect Naween to be of a similar standard, mind you, but I have not seen him in action.)

I'm pinning my hopes on two things: Tricky numbers rounds that I nevertheless navigate safely (and the contestants do not), and that the Scrabble vocabulary turns into a detriment as a good many of those obscure words turn out not to be listed in the Macquarie.  If I can hang in there on enough letter rounds and everything else goes OK I might just be safe at the conundrum (which I expect to be solved by a contestant within a second or two).

A brief digression: At the start of the show it brings up an information box stating that this episode was originally telecast on November 11, 2010.  I believe that this is incorrect; the show first aired on August 2, 2010, and the grand final of series one aired on December 17, 2010.  That is exactly 100 weekdays, so episode 94 should have screened on December 9, 2010.  The only way the claimed date of November could be correct is if they screened multiple episodes a day early on, then had a big gap for no discernible reason during the finals series.  Not at all likely!

(There was a mid-series gap in series three due to the 2011 Tour de France coverage, but no such gaps in series one, two, or four.  The Tour de France may well explain the timing of the insertion of this series as the intent is presumably to go straight from the end of the Masters series to the start of the Tour de France.  The timing is still a bit odd unless the Masters series is nine games -- a best-of-three final? -- as there is a two day gap to cover... but presumably it will make more sense closer to time.)

OK, so onto the contestants.  Richard re-introduces auditor Andrew Fisher, the number one seed, and notes that he was the second retiring champion of the show -- Richard says "carry-over champion", but he cannot mean that since Andrew did not show up until episode 15 -- and holds the record for the highest episode score of the series so far, at 95 points.

Additionally, Richard notes that Andrew was the first contestant to find a nine-letter word; Andrew is quick to point out that his opponent (Rob York) also found that same word.  However, Andrew did find the second full monty later in that episode, whereas his opponent did not.

Facing Andrew as the number eight seed is keen campanologist Esther Perrins.  Richard's recitation of her achievements is that she found twelve seven-letter words during her time on the show, and in fact four of them in the same episode.  I... want that to be more impressive than it comes across, as I can match those statistics from my time on the show (with another four eight-letter words for good measure).  There's some evidence that the letter mix -- or the mixing policy -- has been adjusted since then, though, so it is quite possible that contestants these days do actually have an easier time of it.

Richard notes that Esther's games were nail-biters, generally coming right down to the wire.  Maybe tonight will be another case of that?  Certainly that is what the show would like.

And indeed, it did end up coming down to the conundrum, with Andrew trailing.  That was because of exactly what I hoped for -- his extensive Scrabble vocabulary worked against him, with three of his finds (excellent words all) turning out not to be listed in the Macquarie.  Surprisingly, it was the numbers rounds that let him get back into contention and he managed to close the margin to 4 points on the last one.  The conundrum was tough but Andrew lived up to expectations by solving it in under two seconds, and took a topsy-turvy 55 to 49 win.

Andrew's invalid words worked greatly to my favour also, and I was unexpectedly twenty points up at the first break.  I thought that might be enough to ride home if I could pick up another numbers round and match a letters round, as long as there was no full monty about.  And then, wham, a full monty that I just barely missed and things got very awkward indeed.  I managed to get back more ground in the numbers rounds -- although a simple adjustment would have given me two more points, which could have been very important -- and Andrew's third invalid word pushed me safely clear of him.  Not so over Esther, as I was only nine points ahead of her.  But Andrew solved the conundrum first, and that gave me the wobbly win in the three-cornered game.

Round 1: E E O M P S N M E

Yeesh, what a horrible mix to start off, with all that duplication.  I had POEM, and POEMS, and... that was it; I just could not make anything better our of it.  On the plus side, I don't expect to lose too much here, but it's still not a good sign.

Esther has MEMOS for five, but Andrew declares SEMEME for six.  He describes it as "a bit of a strange one"; Richard asks what it means and Andrew responds that he thinks it is some kind of lexical unit in linguistics.  My Chambers defnes it as "a unit of meaning, usu specif the smallest linguistically analysable unit".  I'm pleased that Andrew is able to come up with definitions; my gripe with tournament Scrabble is that it ends up being about playable sequences of letters rather than words.  Of course, one could level the same charge against Letters and Numbers...

In any case, as might be deduced from my choice of Chambers for the definition, the Macquarie does not list it.  Bad luck for Andrew, but fortunately it only costs five.  David had OMENS for his selection, and there are a few more fives but nothing longer.  A tough way to begin!

Andrew: [invalid]
Esther: MEMOS
David: OMENS

Score: Andrew 0, Esther 5, me 5

Round 2: C I P U D I F K A

Another hideous mix, not too surprising after the first round used up so many E's.  I had CUPID.  That was it.  Sheesh.  (CUPID has an allowable lower case definition, as "an image or representation of [the god Cupid]".)

Esther is limited to the four of DUCK this time around, while Andrew has once more found a six: ADIPIC.  I've heard of that word before; I suspect that I have seen it played in Countdown.  Unfortunately for Andrew, once again the Macquarie foils him.  Andrew somewhat anticipated this, as when he declared it he said that he "may regret it".

Again Richard asks what it means, and Andrew indicates correctly that it relates to fat or animal fat in some way.  My Chambers defines it as simply "of fat", but also suggests that it might only occur in the term ADIPIC ACID; if so then it would still be invalid, as the show does not consider words valid that only appear in combination with another word (like the BOK of BOK CHOY).  David has also found CUPID for five.

The only other five is PUCKA, variant spelling of PUKKA ("correct in behaviour, appearance, or attitude; corresponding to the regulations or best form").

Andrew: [invalid]
Esther: DUCK
David: CUPID

Scores: Andrew 0, Esther 5 (9), me 10

Round 3: Target 644 from 50 25 4 3 8 5

Andrew takes the traditional family mix, and gets a nice mid-range target.  There's a bit of a sting in this one, as the standard approach leads to one away.  From the start, though, I had wanted to use the implicit 75 to multiply by and a little tweaking fortunately supplied me with the answer: 644 = 8*(50 + 25 + 5) + 4.  This turns out to be Lily's solution later.

Both contestants have ended up one away, with 643 = (5 + 8)*50 - 4 - 3.

This puts me 20 ahead of Andrew (and 15 ahead of Esther), which I was certainly not anticipating.  That is 9 points of leeway before the conundrum, so if I can match one letter round, and pick up enough numbers gain, I might be able to scramble home while still conceding two of the remaining letter rounds (provided there's no full monty, that is).  It's an unexpectedly good position to have ended up in.

Andrew: 643
Esther: 643
Me: 644
Lily: 644

Scores: Andrew 0 (7), Esther 5 (16), me 20

First break: CAME RUIN ("A handy treatment")

You can treat your hands with a MANICURE, of course.

David's talk is about the terms tycoon and mogul.

Round 4: S I Z I D T A E R

I had ZITS, ADITS / STAID, TIRADES, and DIARIZES.  Unfortunately I looked at the -IZES ending before -IZED, as just after time ran out I found SATIRIZED for nine.  Argh!  I was just thinking that a full monty could be problematic, too...

Both contestants have found SATIRIZED -- well done to them! -- and now I am in all sorts of trouble.  (It looks like Esther gets there first, interestingly, by a noticeable margin.) 



Scores: Andrew 18 (25), Esther 23 (34), me 20

Round 5: E U O T B G R R S

I had BOUT, BROGUE ("a broad accent, especially Irish, in the pronunciation of English"; at least, that is the definition I was thinking of, but it is also a type of shoe), BROGUES, BURGERS, and GROUTERS.

Both contestants have also found GROUTERS; it turns out that David only had BURGERS, so we've all outdone him.  On the other hand, it seems that we are a bit lucky (or at least, I am) -- I was thinking of a definition along the lines of "one who grouts", which is to say someone who applies grout (to tiles, walls, etc.).  But the Macquarie does not list that agent noun; the only definition it has for GROUTER is "an unfair advantage", a colloquial usage arising from the game of two-up.  That is a new term to me.

That is the only eight; the other sevens are GROUTER (of course), BURSTER, GROUSER, ROUTERS / TROUSER ("of or relating to trousers") / TOURERS, and TURGORS (TURGOR: "the state of being swelled or filled out").


Scores: Andrew 26 (33), Esther 31 (42), me 28

Round 6: Target 914 from 50 100 25 75 7 4

Esther goes for four large numbers; Lily remarks that she remembers Esther favouring this option.  The target is large and troublesome to get near.  I spent too long trying things that got me nowhere, and in the end wrote down the rather poor fallback of 907 = 4*(100 + 75 + 50) + 7.  Note that a minor adjustment would have gotten me three closer, and two points better off: 918 = 4*(100 + 75 + 50) + 25 - 7.  Gah.

Somewhat after time I found my way to 912 = 4*(50 + 75/25) + 7*100, but that was the best I could do.

Andrew declares 9 away with 923, but Esther's 922 is that one point closer.  However she starts off 4*25*100 thinking that is a thousand... but it is actually ten thousand, and whatever she had planned cannot work after that point.  I think she had made an error in any case, with the remaining numbers not sufficing to reach the declared target from a thousand.

That brings Andrew's solution into play, and he scores five points with 923 = (7 + 4)*75 + 100 - 50/25.  When I first heard his declaration of 923 I saw the factor of 13 and thought that he had found 923 = (75 - 4)*(7 + (100 + 50)/25).  His way was better, though, and held out the hope of manufacturing a 1 somehow for the tweaked subtraction of 11 (not that things worked out suitably for that).

Lily has not been able to get closer than 912; it turns out that the target is unreachable, and there is a unique way to get one away: 915 = (100*(50 + 7)*4 + 75)/25.

This numbers round backfired for Esther; rather than putting her more than a conundrum ahead it allowed Andrew to close the gap right up, and he is now just four points behind.

Andrew: 923
Esther: [invalid]
Me: 907
Lily: 912

Scores: Andrew 26 (38), Esther 31 (42), me 33

Second break: PRIOR AND ("These keep falling on my head")

A reference to the song RAINDROPs Keep Fallin' on My Head.

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

This was looking horrible again until that final E.  I had ROTA / TARO, and ROTATED.  After time I wondered about TARTARED, but it is not valid.

Esther has ROTATED for seven, but Andrew declares an eight.  I spent some time searching for a plausible eight, and eventually emerged with AERODART ("an arrowheaded missile of steel dropped from aircraft in warfare"); that is indeed Andrew's word, but that definition came from Chambers again.  The Macquarie does not list it, and Andrew drops a troubling 11 points behind.

David found AERATOR as another seven.

Andrew: [invalid]

Scores: Andrew 26 (38), Esther 38 (49), me 40

Round 8: Target 791 from 75 100 3 10 4 6

If Esther can avoid conceding points in this round then she is guaranteed the win.  She'll be well served by an extremely easy target, or an impossibly difficult one.  The question is which should she try for?  I'd probably try a single large number in practice (hoping for an easy target), but I'd also be very tempted by six small numbers.

Esther tries for the easy option with two large numbers, but again it is a bit tricky.  One away was not too bad, and I had 790 = (75 + 4)*10 fairly soon.  I could not better it within time, but some fiddling afterwards turned up 791 = 10*(75 - 6) + 100 + 4 - 3.

Esther is two away with 793 -- my best guess is 793 = 10*75 + 100/4 + 3*6 -- but Andrew is that one step closer with the same 790 that I had.  That gets him back within striking distance, which must be a relief, while I am now safe from him but still catchable by Esther.  If I had found the adjustment to 918 in the previous numbers round I would now be safe from both.

Lily demonstrates that applying the standard method from below would have been fruitful: 791 = (3 + 4)*100 + 75 + 10 + 6.

Andrew: 790
Esther: 793
Me: 790
Lily: 791

Scores: Andrew 33 (45), Esther 38 (49), me 47


A tough conundrum, with OVER- proving to be a chimera.  Andrew solves it extremely quickly, as expected, and I start the backup timer.  All up, it took me 50 seconds to find it; Esther might well have got there sooner, so it is quite plausible that I would have lost this match against just her.

Andrew: VELODROME (1.5s)
Esther: [no answer]
Me: [no answer]

Final scores: Andrew 43 (55), Esther 38 (49), me 47

Whew, what a close one!  Quite unexpectedly, Andrew conceded 16 points on the letters rounds, never outscoring Esther on them.  Somehow he managed to get back enough points in the numbers rounds to be within range going into the conundrum, and that was it.  Both played very well, and this could easily have gone either way.  I'm not sure I've seen someone win after three invalid rounds before.  (Well, Brett Edwards did in episode 329, but his opponent Alicia Neilsen also had three invalid answers in that game so it's not quite the same.)

Andrew may perhaps take a more cautious line in his next game, as those risky words very nearly cost him.  He would certainly be well advised to consider doing so.

I was cruising comfortably until that full monty burst the game wide open again.  I didn't expect to be in that position, mind you!  Somehow I gained just enough in the numbers to sneak a victory, but a conservative view by Andrew on any of those three letter rounds would have seen me lose.  (On the other hand, if I'd been a touch faster to spot that full monty then not even all of them would have saved him.)

It's an ominous sign of things to come; Naween is of a similar standard to Andrew, as I understand it, so I expect tomorrow's game to also be tough.


Mark said...

Well done Geoff.

643 = (8+5)*50 - 4 - 3
791 = (4+3)*100 + 75 + 10 + 6

Sam Gaffney said...

DISCLAIMER - I saw several of the Series 1 & 2 finals when they first aired (though I don't remember this one), and had seen SATIRIZED on the L&N Hall of Fame web page. I have also had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Fisher before, where he mentioned that he had three Scrabble words disallowed in this episode.

Esther's letter rounds were great, and I always liked her choosing four large numbers. Andrew did really well to nail a tricky conundrum under pressure.

My answers (to be taken with a grain of salt until regular episodes start again):

644 = (50+25+5)*8+4
915 = ((50+7)*100*4+75)/25
790 = (75+4)*10
- (60 seconds or so)

Anonymous said...

As a fan of James Ellroy I like FUCKPAD for 7 in round 2.

Geoff Bailey said...

Hey there, anonymous commenter, nice to hear from you. I'm afraid that your suggestion is not in the Macquarie, so it would not do you much good. For that matter, it is two words in his story.

Mike Backhouse said...

Here are mine for Ep94 (repeat):

Andrew's way (1 off)
GROUTS (do I really need to comment?)
Andrew's way again (9 off)
Lily's way