Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ep 3: Chris Scholten-Smith, Helen Robinson (July 11, 2012; originally aired August 4, 2010)

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.

On his third night, we learn that Chris plays the piano and sings as well.  Richard mentions that Chris also hopes to be a published novelist; he asks Chris whether he has a clear idea of what his novel will be, and in particular whether he can visualise the cover for it.  Chris replies that he has it all worked out: It is going to be an existential thriller and there will be a cliff on the front cover.  He adds that he has only written around 250 words so far, so he has quite a way to go.

Challenging Chris tonight is Helen Robinson, a published author with a background in social welfare, teaching, and criminology.  Her book was about rage (which is also its title); Helen clarifies that it isn't a novel, and is very much written for the layman.  It talks about a lot of different types of rage and anger; Richard asks if it is about anger management, and Helen agrees to an extent.  She explains that it is more about the escalation of anger that leads to rage.

Fortunately it was a rage-free game.  Helen unfortunately had three invalid answers, which made it hard to keep up with Chris, despite him having an invalid answer of his own.  It was the numbers rounds that really proved the difference in this game, with Chris doing well to get close each time and Helen not able to match that.  Once again Chris had the game wrapped up by the end of round seven, and although Helen solved the conundrum first Chris was the victor, 48 to 27.

I wasn't quite as fast as I would have liked to be in the letters rounds, but I got there within time and that's what counts.  There weren't any nasty surprises lurking in the main rounds and I ended up with an optimal game, including a one second conundrum solution.  Both very nice things to have!

Round 1: M A R I L E H S O

I had LAIR, wondered about REMAIL / MAILER (both invalid, as it turns out), and then floundered for a little before MORALISE unravelled itself before my eyes.  The H was a bit of a spoiler in this mix, but I remembered to look for HOLE and found ARMHOLES as a second eight.

After time I saw that the valid seven I'd been looking for from MAILERS was REALISM.

Both contestants declare six-letter words, with Helen opting for the dubious HOLERS while Chris chooses HOLIER.  Helen's choice is invalid, so Chris gets the early lead.  David has found both ARMHOLES and MORALISE for eight.

The other eight is the similar AIRHOLES.  There's a decent scattering of sevens, most pretty common: ARMHOLE, AIRHOLE, HAILERS, MISHEAR, HEROISM, MOHAIRS, LOAMERS, and MOILERS (I've mentioned this a few times already on this blog; MOIL is "to work hard; toil; drudge").

Helen: [invalid]

Scores: Chris 0 (6), Helen 0, me 8

Round 2: A U R N Q E C T A

I had EARN, CRANE, NECTAR, RACQUET, and ARCUATE ("curved like a bow").  The show's first Q is paired with a U, which is nice, and I have a minor bet with myself that David will choose RACQUET unless he finds a longer word.

Both contestants have six-letter words again, anagrams of each other: Chris has TRANCE and Helen has NECTAR.  As expected, David could not resist the Q and has chosen RACQUET as his seven.

The other sevens are CENTAUR and QUARTAN ("(of a fever, ague, etc.) characterised by paroxysms which recur every fourth day, both days of consecutive occurrence being counted"; it is also a noun for such a fever (or ague), so it is pluralisable).


Scores: Chris 0 (12), Helen 0 (6), me 15

Round 3: Target 316 from 50 25 8 6 4 6

I was a bit worried when all those even numbers went up, but fortunately the target was also even.  A minor amount of finesse was required to get the final adjustment, but it was not too hard to find 316 = 6*50 + 8*(6 - 4).  Another option that I have just seen now is 316 = 6*50 + 6*4 - 8, tweakable to 316 = 6*(50 + 4) - 8.  I do wish I'd seen that within time, not that it mattered.

Just after time I noted the target's nearness to 1250/4, and found the alternative solution 316 = (25*50 + 8 + 6)/4.

The contestants declare two away in opposite directions, although Helen grimaces and looks somewhat distressed by her answer.  Chris starts off with 314 = 50*6 + 8 + 6, and Helen's grimacing proves well-founded as she says (6 + 4)*25 + 6*8 = 298, and then trails off in confusion with a "plus..." that clearly cannot work.  A second invalid answer from her, and Chris gets ahead by more than the conundrum.

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

Chris: 314
Helen: [invalid]
Me: 316
Lily: 316

Scores: Chris 0 (19), Helen 0 (6), me 25

First break: NUN PRIDE ("Support from beneath")

With "beneath" a strong indicator for UNDER, finding UNDERPIN is easy enough.

David's talk is about kangaroo words, where a synonym (the "joey") can be formed by taking just some of the letters of the word (the "kangaroo") in the same order.  He mentions chicken/hen, observe/see, jocularity/joy, and fragile/frail before concluding with his two favourite examples: blossom/bloom, and the double kangaroo word feasted/fed, feasted/ate.

Personally, my favourite is twitch/tic.

Round 4: I E D F O N K U R

I had DINE, KNIFED, and wondered about FUNKIER but thought it was risky so I was happy to see FOUNDER as a safer seven.  After time I considered UNFORKED and UNFRIED, but neither are valid.

Chris has also got FOUNDER, but Helen has apparently used the E twice in her invalid seven.  She does not say what it was, but it was most likely REFINED.  That invalid offering lets Chris extend his lead to a commanding twenty points, and Helen is in a lot of trouble.

David mentions FUNKIER, but it looks like he must not have checked up on it, or perhaps he had not yet settled on his policy; although FUNKY is listed, the comparative is not given and FUNKIER should be invalid.

The other sevens are UNFIRED (as pottery, or guns) and DOURINE ("an infectious disease of horses [...]").

Helen: [invalid]

Scores: Chris 7 (26), Helen 0 (6), me 32

Round 5: D E L E S D O N A

I had difficulties with this mix, too -- the duplication often causes troubles.  I had SEED, DOSED, SADDLE, and DANDLES (DANDLE: "to move lightly up and down, as a child on the knees or in the arms").  After time I saw DEADENS as a more common seven.

Both contestants declare six-letter words, with Helen having LEASED and Chris having MOANED.  Richard is surprised by that one, querying where Chris gets the M from; Chris sheepishly states that he just made it up, prompting David to claim that he has XYLOPHONES.  David's actual answer was DEADENS, though.

That gets Helen closer to striking distance, but she still needs more.

The other sevens are ELODEAS (ELODEA being "any species of the submerged water plant genus Elodea [...]") and NODDLES (NODDLE: "to nod lightly or frequently").  I'd seen the possibility of NODDLES but not thought it was actually a word, despite a friend of mine using it moderately often in online chat.  Nice to know.

Chris: [invalid]

Scores: Chris 7 (26), Helen 0 (12), me 39

Round 6: Target 856 from 50 100 25 75 7 5

Helen tries four large numbers in her first numbers pick, and it's surprising that we've had two of them this early in the game's history.  The target stands out as 8*107, and with the 7 already there it's just a question of whether the 8 can be made.  It is not that difficult, and I had 856 = (5 + 75/25)*(100 + 7) reasonably quickly.

That is essentially the only way to solve it, although there is a more complicated way to get the 8 that produces the solution 856 = ((5*75 + 25)/50)*(100 + 7).

Readers who recall Sam's advice that any multiple of 25 up to a thousand can be made with the four large numbers and any single small number from 3 to 10 will have known immediately that one away must be feasible.  A particularly straightforward way to that is 855 = 7*100 + 75 + 50 + 25 + 5, but there are a lot of other options.

We get the first use of what will later become a standard term for this mix when Richard remarks that Helen selected "some heavyweight numbers".  It has not served her that well, however, as she is 24 off the pace with 832, presumably 825 + 7.  I'm not sure how she managed that without having an easy adjustment to 857, but it's all a question of time, of course.  Chris has managed just two away with 854 = 75*(7 + 5) - 50 + 100/25.

I'm pretty impressed with this from Chris, even though better was possible.  In his answer he demonstrated two important techniques for the numbers game: Knowing multiples of 75, and being able to divide one large number by another.  Regular viewers will have been exposed to these techniques by now, but at the time he would not have had that advantage.  Maybe he has watched Countdown?  Great stuff, in any case.

Lily maintains her good form, finding the first solution listed above.

Chris: 854
Helen: [not in range]
Me: 856
Lily: 856

Scores: Chris 7 (33), Helen 0 (12), me 49

Second break: DRAPE JOY ("You might be at risk of not solving this one")

The clues begin their slide into indirection, with the risk indicating JEOPARDY.

Round 7: N E M A S L O W E

Looking at the letters that went up made me think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but that is not particularly helpful.  I had NAME, NAMES, struggled to find a six for a while before emerging with ENAMELS for seven, and wondered about ALEWOMEN.  Fortunately I rejected that last as I knew that the Macquarie lists very few -WOMAN (or -WOMEN) words.

In fact, I was a bit lucky in a way since I thought that ALEMAN was a valid word; it is not.  I had a meaning in mind along the lines of "a man who serves ale", with an obvious adjustment to ALEWOMAN.  I think I was misled by POTMAN, which does have essentially this meaning; although it is not listed in the Macquarie either, I know that it is legal in Countdown.  In any case, ALEWOMEN is not at all valid, and just as well I avoided it.

(As an aside, since it would have been nearby, I'll note that the Macquarie does not list ALEWIFE either.  That seems a little odd.)

Meanwhile, both contestants have found WOMEN for five and David has the excellent AWESOME for seven.  Nice one, David!

With Chris not losing ground here, he is now 21 points ahead and guaranteed to win.

That looks like the sevens taken care of; there's a fair few sixes, with the more common ones being SALMON, LAWMEN, WEASEL, SEAMEN, and LEMONS / MELONS / SOLEMN.

Chris: WOMEN
Helen: WOMEN

Scores: Chris 7 (38), Helen 0 (17), me 56

Round 8: Target 157 from 75 100 4 6 10 8

Helen reverts to the family mix and those even small numbers could be a problem again.  At least there is one odd number on the board, and it should be clear that adding or subtracting it will be a key step in the solution.  The standard method works pretty handily to yield 157 = 100 + 75 - 10 - 8.

After time I played around with some ideas for a kitchen sink and emerged with 157 = 4*6*8 - (100 - 75) - 10 as another solution.

Helen declares two away with 159; this feels like it must have been 75 + 8*10 + 4, in which case she missed the chance to add (6 - 4) instead at the end.  But Chris is on target with the same solution that I had, and claims the points.

Chris: 157
Helen: 159
Me: 157

Scores: Chris 17 (48), Helen 0 (17), me 66


Chris has moved into the high forties for the third time, but needs to solve this conundrum in order to finally breach the half-century mark.  The answer leapt out at me due to the similar sounds of T and D consonants, and I had the solution in quick time to round out an optimal game.  Helen ended up solving this one first a little over eight seconds in, denying Chris the fifty.

Chris: [no answer]
Helen: DEFENDANT (8.5s)

Final scores: Chris 17 (48), Helen 0 (27), me 76

Three invalid answers on the letters rounds did not leave the contestants much room to impress, with FOUNDER from Chris being the only noteworthy word tonight.  Chris showed some good technique in the numbers rounds that was very nice to see, and it certainly served him well; he picked up 24 points from those rounds, and his winning margin was 21 points.

Helen may have been a victim of first-game nerves with those invalid answers, but she gets the consolation prize of having solved the conundrum.  Chris gets through to the crucial fourth game; can he win that, and earn a probable place in the finals?  Pretend that you don't already know the answer from the recently-screened finals episodes, and tune in tomorrow to find out.


Sam Gaffney said...

Good play Geoff. In Round 6, I did indeed waste time on a one-away safety answer.

I declared the invalid DELOADS in Round 5, it is very frustrating that technical terms from the electricity industry where I work are rarely in the Macquarie, but medical/scientific/naval jargon usually is. Otherwise I would have gone with SADDLE here.

My answers:

316 = (50+4)*6 - 8 (much more elegant than Geoff & Lily)
(invalid: DELOADS)
856 = (100+7) * (5 + 75/25)
157 = 100+75-10-8

Geoff Bailey said...

*chuckles* Yes, your way to 316 was much more elegant, Sam. Just a shame your CURATE was more of a curate's egg. *grins*

More seriously, despite the invalid DELOADS, that was a pretty good game. Nice work!

Jan said...

Hi Geoff and Sam,

You two are too good for me. I would have drawn with Chris last night.

Soiler (6)
Canter (6)
6*50+25-8=317 (7)
Kinder (0)
Noddle (6) - why didn't I add an s?
7*100+25+50+75=850+5=855 (7)
Solemn (6)
100+75-8-10=157 (10)
Didn't get the conundrum before Helen did.
Score 48

When you are writing the letters down, how do you do it. I have always just done it in a row, but I am thinking there is a better way. David puts them in a circle, I think? Geoff and Sam, how do you write them down? I might as well learn from the masters!

Geoff Bailey said...

Nice to hear from you again, Jan. First up I'll note that SOILER is, alas, not valid -- one of the reasons I prefer to avoid agent nouns where possible. Those letters could be used instead for OILERS, LORIES (plural of LORY, one of a class of lorikeets), or ORIELS (ORIEL: a bay window).

That's some good numberwork from you, getting nice and close even when the target is a bit tricky.

I'll note that your scoreline against Chris would have actually been 42 to 29 in your favour -- if you're letting him take points away from you for KINDER, you should likewise take them away from him with 317, 855, and SOLEMN.

Everyone has their own style of writing down the letters. Some people -- and I think Sam is one of these -- just stare at them on the monitor and unscramble them from there. Brett Edwards, who ended my run, also used that style.

David writes them in a circle; I use two lines -- consonants on top, vowels on the bottom -- and another common style is to use a 3x3 grid, perhaps inspired by the Target puzzles in the paper. Jacob Davey, the series three champion, commented a little about his methods in response to my coverage of episode 300.

When I'm not pushed for time, I tend to write the consonants in a loose circle outside and the vowels in another one inside (in practice, a triangle or square most of the time). The reason I don't adopt this method for the show is that I don't know in advance how to space the items.

The basic idea behind a lot of these approaches is to get the letters closer to each other so that you can jump from one to the other more easily, and thus hopefully find connections.

A possible disadvantage of the "all in a row" technique is that you can get caught on fragments that are spelled out in the mix and not be able to break out of that. There's that tension in the various methods people use -- you want to be able to spot useful fragments, but you also want to be able to spot other things at the same time.

A big factor behind my approach of two lines was that it meant I could avoid thinking about where I should place a letter. With the 3x3 grid approach, there's choices about where to place each letter when it turns up (Jacob mentions some of his policies in the comments section linked above). I preferred to spend that time thinking about possible words, at the cost of not being able to lay out the letters to improve the chances of seeing useful fragments more easily.

But basically, whatever works for you is the way to go, and the way to find that out is to experiemtn. I do think that, in general, it will be better to group the letters more closely than a straight line, enabling the eye to more easily jump from one to any other.

Sam Gaffney said...

Hi Jan, Geoff is correct in that I do not write out the letters. I find that it just takes up time and doesn't help me, but everyone is different. My brain is used to finding words in the nice neat letters the show uses, not my scrawls, which will be subtly different every time.

I think that the best way to see the letters is in a square or circle: our eyes have more light receptors there, and they don't have to make the large jumpy movements as when you look at the left and right ends of the nine letters. Another plus side to looking at written letters on your page is that if you do this when actually appearing on the show, you are searching for words exactly the same way you do in practice; by contrast, my way involves looking down at a small monitor instead of the computer or large TV screen I am accustomed to. It is always good to practice under the actual conditions you will face under pressure (not just in L&N).

The numbers are similar, I just work out the answer in my head and then write down the solution as one line, without wasting time or concentration on intermediate subtotals. When checking answers in which both contestants had used the same method, I was always surprised to see all the extra writing!