Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Ep 1: Chris Scholten-Smith, Elaine Miles (July 9, 2012; originally aired August 2, 2010)

It used to be that each episode of Letters and Numbers had a repeat screening a week later, at three in the afternoon.  Now that all filmed episodes have been shown, SBS has made the excellent decision to continue to use that timeslot to show the episodes from the very beginning.  That gives a lot of people a chance to see episodes that they missed out on the first time, and I'm pretty happy about that.

Episodes of Countdown are scheduled to start three weeks from now, and it remains to be seen whether they will then migrate into that repeat slot or whether (as I hope) the reruns of Letters and Numbers will continue.  Regardless, I intend to enjoy this while it lasts.

Disclaimer: While I have not seen this episode before, I did play through the blue book (episodes 1 to 50) around ten months ago when I was scheduled to be a contestant on the show.  Additionally, I did a quick flick through it a few months back to collect words for my posts about word validity.  One particular word did stay in my mind from that, which I will mention in due course.

So... the very first episode of Letters and Numbers.  There's a certain bittersweet irony to this one given the current decision to rest the show: Richard opens with a little spiel that mentions how the format has lasted a long time in France and the UK, and that they hope the show will prove just as popular here.  I honestly think that they nailed that brief in the time that they had, and were picking up a groundswell of school viewers that would really have paid off in five years time or so.

It will be interesting to see how the cast settles into their roles.  There's a few moments of stiffness here and there tonight, and David is wearing an uncharacteristically bland shirt by the standards of later episodes.  His opening response to Richard is a little more subdued than I'm used to, and drives home just how good a rapport the three of them built with each other in a short time.  I'm looking forward to seeing that develop.

Taking up what will come to be known as the champion's position is Chris Scholten-Smith, a secondary school teacher of literature, Latin, the ancient classics, and Chinese.  That's an interesting combination, and Richard asks how come Chris chose both Latin and Chinese.  Chris responds that Latin was still a compulsory subject when he was at school, and later on in life he went to China, living and working in Nanjing.  That was a wonderful experience for him, and how his other passion was awakened.

Occupying the challenger's position is Elaine Miles, who is studying a PhD in physics and arts conservation.  Elaine is writing a thesis on the non-destructive testing of artwork; on a lighter note, she is part of a knitting group called Yarncore.  Elaine explains that this is a group of twenty physicists who have been knitting for the past three years and made over a hundred items, including some for street festivals.

(This sounds unrelated to the Seattle-based YarnCore, but maybe there is a connection after all.)

It was a vowel-heavy night from both contestants, which kept word lengths down.  Elaine risked a longer word in the first round and an unusual decision saw it validated to give her an early advantage.  The next round saw both contestants try invalid words, and the remaining letters rounds provided no further swing.  The first numbers round was shared, but a surprising miss from Elaine in the second numbers round saw Chris take the lead.  With the last numbers round proving too difficult for both contestants, Chris was ahead but catchable going into the conundrum.  Chris solved it in quick time to get the win, 45 points to 33.

I had a decent game, only dropping two maximums.  One of those I might have seen if I had been a bit more careful, but the other was a numbers game that was simply too tough for me (but not the ever-impressive Lily, even this early in the show's history).  The conundrum was pretty clear, but I was still a second slower than desirable; I'm confident that I'd have been beaten to it by a goodly percentage of finalists.

Round 1: T O L I N E G S I

I had TOIL, INLET, TOILING, IGNITES, and then realised I could stick an L in front for LIGNITES (LIGNITE: "an imperfectly formed coal, usually dark brown, and often having a distinct woody texture; brown coal; wood coal").  I might fall afoul of the mass noun issue, but given the large amount of variation involved in LIGNITE it seems reasonable to me to talk of various LIGNITES.  After time I noted TINGLES / SINGLET as some other sevens.

There's naturally a few teething troubles in this first round; Chris pauses a bit too long before calling one letter, then calls the next one too quickly.  He follows that up by asking for two consonants at once; all of these were considered minor no-nos by the time I was a contestant, but the crew had not had those experiences yet.

Chris declares TOILING for seven, but Elaine goes out on a limb with TOILINGS for eight.  David calls it a controversial start, and then the strange thing happens: David looks at the dictionary and says that the risk has paid off -- that TOILINGS is acceptable as a plural and it is the best to be found from the mix.  I've checked several times, though, and there is not a hint of TOILING as a stand-alone entry anywhere, so I have no idea what David was looking at that caused him to rule this way.

(To expand on this: Under later precedent, the gerund form would have to be explicitly listed as a stand-alone noun for the plural to be allowed.  I am confident that TOILINGS would be ruled invalid today, but since policies about validity were still under development during the first series it is all quite understandable that it was allowed then.  What bemuses me is that David apparently looked something up and this appears to have factored into the decision.  The only entry that could be relevant is the verb sense for TOIL (and thus the implied gerund TOILING), and that can surely be taken as not needing to be looked up.)

This word, incidentally, is the one that I alluded to in my disclaimer about this episode.  I recalled it clearly as an unexpectedly allowed word from the blue book, and also that it was from the very first episode.  I was pretty confident this was that round after the first four letters revealed TOIL.  Fortunately I found alternatives that satisfied me at least as much.

This round is the first of what proves to be a pretty vowel-heavy set of letters rounds.  Perhaps for contestants unfamiliar with the format (which is fair enough, under the circumstances) it seemed reasonable that roughly as many vowels as consonants is a good thing?  In any case, I've spoken many times about how I prefer only three vowels once -ING hits the table, and doing so in this case would have changed the final I into and M and allowed MOLESTING for nine.

LIGNITES appears to be the only eight (assuming that it were deemed valid).  There's lots of sevens, though; the others are GLISTEN, LISTING / SILTING / TILINGS, SOILING / SILOING, LIONISE, LONGEST, LEGIONS / LINGOES / LONGIES (LONGIE being a variant form of LONGNECK: "a 750 ml bottle of beer) / ELOIGNS (ELOIGN: "to remove (oneself) to a distance"), LENTIGO (a freckle; the plural is LENTIGINES, incidentally), OILIEST / IOLITES (IOLITE being another name for the mineral CORDIERITE), and -- moderately unusually -- LINIEST (superlative of LINY (also LINEY): "full of or marked with lines").


Scores: Chris 0, Elaine 8, me 8

Round 2: A O M R T U I Y E

Five vowels and a Y -- yeesh!  I had ROAM, MIAOU, MATURE, and a familiar MURIATE, although it took me longer than it should have.  I was mentally pleading for another R instead of that last vowel, though, as MORTUARY was on the cards.  The next consonant would have been an R, too.

Elaine tries RETOY for five, while Chris opts for MATIER for six.  But both selections are invalid and the scores stay as they are.  David has accurately found MURIATE as the only seven.

The other sixes are ATRIUM, IMARET ("(in Turkey) a hospice for pilgrims, etc."), UREMIA (variant spelling of URAEMIA: "the morbid condition resulting from the retention of urinary constituents"), and MOIETY (it can mean simply "a half", but the definition I first encountered is the anthropological one: "one of two units into which a tribe is divided on the basis of unilateral descent").

Chris: [invalid]
Elaine: [invalid]

Scores: Chris 0, Elaine 8, me 15

Round 3: Target 557 from 75 100 2 9 7 5

Chris kicks off the first numbers round with a family mix, although it wasn't know as that back then.  The standard method suggests getting to 550 and adding 7; with only 75 and 100 available, this requires an even number to multiply the 75 by, but not one divisible by 4.  Fortunately we have a 2 handy, and the remaining numbers can give the difference that we need, yielding 557 = (9 - 5)*100 + 2*75 + 7.

Still within time I considered the descent from 675, and realised that the difference of 18 = 9*2 from 575 was actually quite helpful.  That gave me the alternative solution 557 = 9*(75 - 2) - 100.

After time I played with a couple of variations of that idea, finding first 557 = 5*75 + 2*(100 - 9) and then the somewhat more straightforward 557 = 5*100 + 75 - 2*9.

Both contestants have solved this, using the last of those solutions.  It is interesting to note that Lily's writing on the board is a lot smaller and neater than it ended up becoming in later games.  Certainly the paper ends up looking a bit underutilised.

Chris: 557
Elaine: 557
Me: 557

Scores: Chris 10, Elaine 18, me 25

First break: ART RADIO ("Heats your house but cools your car")

A fairly straight (but perhaps amusing) definition for RADIATOR.

David's talk is about the words cappuccino and macchiato.

Round 4: E R A O R C A E W

Argh, the vowels, the vowels!  I couldn't help seeing the potential for CAREWORN there with a few less vowels, but the N would not have turned up in any case.  Still, with the next two consonants being F and B, staying with four vowels would have allowed WARFARE for seven and using only three would have allowed CROWBAR or FORBEAR also for seven.

As it was, I had ROAR, CARER, COWER, wondered about COWERER, and WEARER.  I vacillated for a bit but ended up rejecting COWERER, correctly as it turns out.

Both contestants have five-letter words; Chris has COWER while Elaine has RACER.  David mentions CAREER and WEARER as possible sixes.

The other sixes are CROWEA (a type of shrub) and OCREAE (plural of OCREA: "a sheathing part, as a pair of stipules united about a stem").

Chris: COWER
Elaine: RACER

Scores: Chris 10 (15), Elaine 18 (23), me 31

Round 5: F A B E S O T U E

I had BASE, BOAST, OUTSEE, and OBTUSE.  Once again the many vowels make long words difficult; staying with three vowels would have added K and F to the mix, allowing OFFBEATS for eight (OFFBEAT as a noun being a musical term: "the unaccented or less strongly accented beat of a bar) but not TAKE-OFFS, which requires the hyphen.

Both contestants have five-letter words; this time Chris has BOAST while Elaine has BEAST.  David has selected OBTUSE for six as his answer.

The other six-letter words are FOETUS and BEAUTS.

Chris: BOAST
Elaine: BEAST

Scores: Chris 10 (20), Elaine 18 (28), me 37

Round 6: Target 750 from 50 75 25 100 4 7

Elaine chooses the show's first heavyweight mix, which was unexpected.  The target is very cooperative, however.  I focused prematurely on it being 75*10, which with a little prodding led me to 750 = ((100 + 50)/25 + 4)*75.  Then I saw the somewhat more obvious 750 = 7*100 + 50.  Still with time left I played around with some other options, emerging with a final solution of 750 = (4*75/25 - 7)*(100 + 50).

Chris clearly solves this very early using the second of those solutions, but Elaine has somehow "blanked out"; maybe she was stuck trying to make 10*75 work?  In any case, those ten points put Chris into the lead.

Chris: 750
Elaine: [no answer]
Me: 750

Scores: Chris 20 (30), Elaine 18 (28), me 47

Second break: CAST PAIL ("Large letters and big cities")

I saw APLASTIC in those letters (not valid on the show, incidentally -- APLASTIC is only listed as part of the phrase "aplastic anaemia"), got sidetracked by thoughts of Hollywood, and then realised that the clue was indicating CAPITALS.

Round 7: K A F G E I A C S

I suppose I should be thankful it was only four vowels this time, although a final E could have been useful for CAKEAGE ("a charge levied by a restaurant for serving cake brought in from outside the premises").  As it was I had FAKE, FAKIE (a skateboarding manoeuvre), FAKIES, CAGES, FASCIA ("a long flat board covering the ends of rafters", amongst other definitions), and debated SACKAGE and CAKAGES, rightly rejecting them both.

After time I realised that the plural of FASCIA is FASCIAE; that was a careless miss.  A little more care would have kept the potential optimal game alive.

Once again both contestants have five-letter words to declare, both opting for FAKES.  David has found FASCIA and thus FASCIAE for seven.

The other six is FACIES ("a general appearance of something naturally occurring, as a particular flora, fauna or ecological community"; this definition, incidentally, is a rare case where the Macquarie does not use the Oxford comma -- presumably a simple oversight).  The other six that should be there is FACIAE, as FACIA is listed as a variant spelling of FASCIA.  We don't yet have precedent on inflected forms of variant spellings, though.

Chris: FAKES
Elaine: FAKES

Scores: Chris 20 (35), Elaine 18 (33), me 53

Round 8: Target 781 from 25 50 8 7 4 5

Elaine reverses her choice this time, going for what should be an easier two large and four small mix.  The standard method is not clearly useful, with the differences being 6 and 19 and neither being that formable.  I wrote down a backup one-away 780 = (8 + 7)*50 + 25 + 5, then got lost trying unsuccessfully to get 71*11 to work.

After time I experimented with 725 + 7*8, which has a fair few tweaking options but nothing that works out.  I tried a few other approaches including 8*97 + 5 or 4*194 + 5, but was unable to get anything to work and eventually gave up.

Elaine has only been able to get to 731, which is somewhat outside the scoring range; I'm going to guess that was 731 = (5 + 4)*(50 + 25) + 7*8.  But Chris is "miles away" -- he's not even sure what his total is, but he thinks it is 579.  Definitely a challenging target!

But Lily demonstrates her excellence already, finding the solution 781 = (25*8 - 50 + 7)*5 - 4.  Well done, Lily!

There are three other solutions, as it turns out, and they are pretty difficult.  Two of them use approaches that I was unable to get to work in extra time: 781 = 8*((25 - 4)*7 - 50) + 5 and 781 = 4*((25 - 7)*8 + 50) + 5.  The remaining one is a variant on Lily's idea, although harder to see: 781 = (25*7 - 8)*5 - 50 - 4.

Chris: [not in range]
Elaine: [not in range]
Me: 780
Lily: 781

Scores: Chris 20 (35), Elaine 18 (33), me 60


The first show has the conundrum matter, which is a good sign.  I was apparently not focused enough, as I just looked blankly at the letters for a second before they resolved themselves into the answer.  I got to the buzzer first, but that delay would have been costly against some opponents.

Chris gets to it a couple of seconds later, and becomes the show's first winner.  Congratulations, Chris!

Chris: JEWELLERY (4.5s)
Elaine: [no answer]

Final scores: Chris 20 (45), Elaine 18 (33), me 70

And so the first game of Letters and Numbers comes to an end.  It was a pretty good standard of play for contestants presumably not familiar with the concept, although they showed a distressing predilection for vowels.  Lily and David were both in great form right from the start, producing an optimal game between them (well... gripes about TOILINGS aside) with some tough finds required to do so.  All in all, a decent start to build on.


Jan S said...

Hi Geoff, I am glad you are going to be blogging about the repeats.
I would have won last night against the players on the show, but would not have beaten you.
Rd 1 - I had toilings like Elaine. Surprised to read that this is not acceptable, after David giving it thumbs up (8)
Rd 2 - mature (6)
Rd 3 - 5*100 + 75 - 7-9-2 = 557 (10)
Got the word mix
Rd 4 - crower. Since you didn't mention it, I guess it is not in the dictionary (0)?
Rd 5 - about (5)
Rd 6 - (7+4)*75=825 - 25-50 =750 (10)
Got the word mix
Rd 7 - fakes (5)
Rd 8 - (7+8)*50=750+25+5=780 (7)

Because I could only listen to it on my iPad and not watch it, I couldn't do the conundrum, so my score on the first 8 rounds was 51

I am happy with that, but making you one of my opponents, I hope, will improve my playing.

Looking forward to watching it this arvo, not just listening to it.


Geoff Bailey said...

G'day Jan, great to hear your results! I particularly liked your route to 750 -- 11*75 is one of those intermediates which appeals to me.

The first series had a fair few words that would not be considered valid later on. It's understandable that the policies were under development at the time -- some things you only get a handle on through experience. Also, I think that the first series had a very high proportion of Scrabble players so the default position was to assume that a word was probably correct provided there was a listing for the base word.

Aside: TOYER would have been acceptable instead of RETOY.

No joy with CROWER; in fact, it was while checking up on it that I found the listing for CROWEA. The -ER agent nouns are a bit fickle like that.

A shame that you could not do the conundrum this time, but still an excellent score. I hope that I and the others who post here can provide a good sense of competition for you.

Sam Gaffney said...

Hi Geoff, good to see the blog back in action, and thanks to Mike Backhouse for alerting me to the 3pm repeats of early episodes in a recent comment.

I don't think I saw the show's debut, but I can't have missed too many, as I think I saw some of Andrew Fisher's early episodes. The contestant co-ordinator went hard early by starting with a cute player, and the standard of answers was quite decent with the exception of Elaine bombing 750 (worst miss ever?). I haven't read the L&N books, so a lot of these games will be clean for me; I didn't watch religiously for quite a while.

The letter mixes were a lot less friendly in the early days of the show, especially with these two vowel-happy contestants.

I was a bit suspicious of TOILINGS when David OKed it, as the Macquarie does not classify that many -ING words as nouns.

My answers:
TOILING (noticed LEGATIONS was near)
ATRIUM (too out of practice for MURIATE)
557 = 9*(75 - 2) - 100
CAREER (tempted by COWERER)
750 = 7*100+50 (the target was a real disappointment here)
780 = (8*25-5)*4 (got Lily's way after a few minutes)

Geoff Bailey said...

Good to have you back in action also, Sam. I also noticed the almost-LEGATIONS; perhaps Chris was aiming for this after all. I naturally thought of you when the heavyweight was called for, but what a disappointing target to get.

Mike Backhhouse said...

Thanks Geoff as ever for your analysis. It really helps us learners! As do the comments.

I had SOILING to begin with, and thereafter a bunch of fives (so to speak). I did not see the obvious solution to the 750 target (I actually did Jan's method - looking for an excuse to use my 75 times tables!

Oh well, practice practice practice.