Weaver's Week 2013-06-02

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This week's column is the first of two parts discussing a puzzle trail. Readers may wish to attempt the puzzles themselves. They will be online "in a few days" at http://www.playdash.org/dash5 and we're going to give some massive spoilers. So, do be careful.



London, 25 May

9.30 last Saturday morning. This column is sitting on a bench in the courtyard of University College London. Many learned people have studied here, faced intellectual challenges, and triumphed over complex and perplexing puzzles. We hope to join them.

The grand courtyard of UCL.

Joining us on this endeavour are four co-conspirators. Gary Male and Daniel Peake were the brains and the face of Accumulate!, the game show where things quickly added up. Chris Dickson was the founder of ukgameshows.com, back when it was a single web page. Ronald Stewart is a jogger, tutor, and puzzle regular. Between us, we're facing the inquisition of Different Area Same Hunt.

Over in North America, they can't be bothered with Eurovision weekend. Their continental celebration is of puzzles, and teams in fourteen locations (mostly, but not exclusively, on the coasts) spent 18 May pitting their brains against a themed set of puzzles. The game starts at about the same time everywhere, and some participants have a bit of kudos from the fact they're playing in a national event without leaving their home town.

Keyword: hiccupped.

For logistical reasons, they didn't play on 18 May in London – to avoid spoilers, we would have had to start at 4pm and gone on until closing time, mixing with drunkards singing from Disney musicals. Instead, the date was 25 May, when all eyes were focussed on London. The men's rugby final at Twickenham, the aftermath of the European football final at Stamford Bridge a couple of nights earlier, and now this international event.

The warm-up exercise involved very small pieces of paper. Find two other teams with similar bits of paper, so that the slips would arrange into a well-known word. There was a request to take a picture hinting at the word, and post it to a social network site.

Keyword: funkiness.

After that, into puzzle one. The three teams have been given three pages of dialogue, split up into ten lines. These lines weren't in the right order, the only clue was the word "Start" on one of the sheets. There were three other sheets in each team's pack: an "i-chart"; a picture of a duodenum with letters inside and other pictures around; and a print of a heart record.

It quickly became clear that there were many quotations from famous movies embedded in the script. Just as Chris Packham forces his conversation on Springwatch to contain Clash songs, so this work had lines like "I'll have what she's having" jammed in, almost but not quite naturally. It also became clear that there were many foods: was this a recipe for a Waldorf Salad with the answer being the missing ingredient?

Would that it were! Things were much more complex. The foods were contained in the name of the pictures (Beethoven contains "beet", triceratops contains "rice", and so on.) Join the foods in the order they're mentioned in the conversation and three letters are left. In the completed conversation, there were phrases like "intellectual property" and "instant messanger", each a two-letter abbreviation: follow these on the "i-chart" to reveal another phrase. And the film quotes refer to couples in each movie: put their names in the blanks, and the spikes in the heart graph pick out letters which give yet another clue.

A triceratops. Not a Xenosaur; there's no Gabriellesaur nearby.

All of this requires the original script to be in the right order, in which our team was detained by others. And it requires the pictures to be easily identifiable – is this a triceratops or a xenosaur? Where's our dinosaur expert, other than on the bus? And it requires significant knowledge of the plot and characterisation of Hollywood movies. Mind the cultural gaps. This column found it a frustrating puzzle – it wasn't possible to make progress on anything other than the hidden foods until the script is in order – and came within moments of sloping off for a really large cup of iced coffee. The most irritating part was that this puzzle was just for laughs, it didn't affect the scores at all. In a very real sense, it's a pointless puzzle.

Eventually, we came up with the answer. This allowed us to crack on with puzzle two, a gentle definition puzzle with an attached grid. Solving the stumpers gave letters to be placed in the grid, after a while it became possible to work in the reverse direction, taking letters and putting them back in the clues. Except some of these letters didn't fit in the clues, they were superfluous. Nothing in DASH is superfluous, and these additional letters – one per clue – gave the answer. And never a cross word.

From here, the team headed out of UCL's courtyard, already being prepared for the students' end-of-term party. We had been directed to the UCL hospital, and the back end of the café. In order to reach the back end of the café, we need to pass through the café, and with the time fast coming up to lunchtime, we took the opportunity to take time for lunch. This is perfectly fine, DASH rules say that only the time spent looking at puzzles counts to the total. Travel between locations is free, because what's a five minute walk for us is not necessarily going to be a five-minute walk in Boston or Seattle. Lunchtime is also free, at least in game terms.

Doctor, I think I'm turning into a vampire. Next!

The third puzzle consisted of a list of doctors, and a series of statements about them, each missing a word or short phrase. The blanks were to be filled in an appropriately witty, wry, and punful manner. This is home territory for Dr. Peake and Mr. Male, as fans of Accumulate! will recall.

Actually, the blanks were to be filled in by one of the doctor's names, plus an additional letter. Readers may have seen this sort of solution method before, perhaps as recently as the last puzzle. There are plenty of laughs in the text, not least because the type of doctor gave a clue to the medic's name – so Dr. Knowse would be an ENT specialist, Dr. Oulde is a geriatric doctor, and Dr. Foote specialises in corns, like these puns.

The solution method wasn't the only thing shared with the prior puzzle, as this column got a whiff of US cultural imperialism through all the puzzles – "Tivo" had been described as a "program shifter" and not "Bolt-on device", we're meant to know that basketball players "foul out", and electro-cardiogram suddenly found itself with a K in the middle. The UK fought back with puzzle four: bring on the walls!

A team plots their revenge.

Not one, not two, not four, but six oversized connecting walls. Each of them was five rows of five connections, typically with some of the clues already in place. Channelling the spirit of Victoria Coren, and picking up a really sharp crayon, we set to work. Then put down the crayon, because these wall tiles are on stickers, and can be placed and lifted again.

It could quickly be seen that some of the grids would be chewed up and spat out by the Only Connect editorial team. One wall included the links "re___" words, "one-____" words, and "twin ____" words. Even at this distance, we could hear shouts from Cardiff of "Gaaah!" and "No! No!" and the sharp report as a hand hits a forehead. But maybe they were preparing the music round for Monday's show.

Only after completing the grids did we notice that some of the entries on each line were black, and others were white. This explained which 25 clues were going to be re-used for the final grid, and reading down the connections here led quickly to the correct answer.

Wall, wall, wall, what do we have here?

How was this the UK's revenge? Amongst the six teams playing the main game in London, the median time to solve this puzzle was 36.5 minutes. Amongst teams playing on the other side of the pond, median time was something closer to 66.5 minutes. So, DASH puzzlers of Yankeeland, this is how we get so good.

Only Connect

Series 7, heat 3: Francophiles v Festival Fans

Finding teams C and Q on your show guides this week, and it's Connecting Walls 288 and 289.

Festival Fans could have entered the contest as real ale fans, but that doesn't fit this year's theme. One of the Francophiles has been hit by a rice cake during a fertility festival, and the team captain doesn't understand the host's perfect French. If the BBC is ever looking for a Eurovision host, Victoria will be in her dressing room, with a university rowing team, clutching pork scratchings.

Into connections! For the Francophiles, it's "Cupric Nitrate" and Pudsey's bandage. The Twister mat is the giveaway, coloured spots for a point. Music for the Festival Fans, some jazzy music, "To be with you", "Flatbeat", so it's performers taking the stage name "Mr. Something or other". 2-1 to the Fans, and we wonder if a suitably evil question-setter might have suggested "Mr. Blobby" there.

Groups of three for the Francophiles, but "three women" isn't close enough. "Three sisters" is enough to send a bonus over. How long is this question? Long-term assets, the (old) limit for murder, The Owl and the Pussycat's journey, and (apparently) a Wiccan initiation. 4-1 to the Fans.

Pictures for the Francophiles: a cowboy, the pop group Liberty, and that's a giveaway. Three spectacular points! "Small one-horse carriage", the former Finnish currency that's finished. "Contain KK" is OK, the setters had "ends in KKA". Two points means the Fans have the first set, 6-4.

Sequences begins with the unhelpful "New". It's clearly phases of the moon, but "Gibbous" was the one evading both sides. "Donaghy, Buena, Buchanan" is the start of the next set, and they spot it's successive lineups of the Sugababes. It's "Range, Berrabah, Ewen", being the line-up of Sugababes 2.6, the rubbish line-up that was still together at the time of recording. Still 6-4.

In a numbers sequence, is the answer always 1? Not here: X to the power of X does pass through 1, but when it starts at 3125, they're going to 2-squared, 4, a bonus for the Fans. Canary Islands in increasing size order, ending in Tenerife, and a 9-4 lead.

Chess rankings for the Francophiles, and if 2200 is Candidate Master, they're heading for 2500, and the guess it's Grandmaster is correct for three big points. When they guess, these Francophiles guess well. Pictures for the Fans: big ears, big eyes, big hands, but it's not big feet they're looking for. No, it's big teeth, all the better to eat you with, Red Riding Hood. That wolfish bonus has closed the gap, but the Festival Fans still lead, 9-8.

Only Connect (2) Wall, wall, wall. What we have here.

What's on the walls tonight? Spells, apps jump out at us. "What's Instagram?" asks the team, clearly losing any hipster credibility they had. Words that take an extra letter would be a rubbish link. First women, that comes in from nowhere. The teams mention songs – oh! It's Bette Midler films! They found two groups, Victoria doesn't tempt fate by saying magic words in the studio, there is a fan of Bette's in the studio. Six points!

Over to the Francophiles, and they manage to find a group before we've quite worked out what they've found a group of. Is there a group of plays by the same writer? Surnames of famous acting siblings, that comes out after a few shots. Might there be a group of missiles in there? The team discuss for a long time, and solve the wall, almost by accident. Mythical winged creatures was the group they got in no time at all, the missiles were actually models of luxury car, and that last group isn't things you can count (!), but things that can be burned. Six points!

So it's 15-14 to the Fans going into Missing Vowels. Seats is the opening set, the Francophiles get "chaise longue" but lose the set 2-1. Female tennis players goes to the Francophiles 3-1, and the game is tied. Top 20 Great British Designs is a tricky third set, running down the clock to give the Francophiles a 2-1 lead. Films featuring nuns goes their way by 3-1, and time has expired. In a late turnaround, the Francophiles have won in the final round, 23-20.

This Week And Next

Join us next week to conclude the discussion of DASH. By which time the puzzles might be up on the website.

Two Deal or No Deal alumni are in the pop charts this week. The presence of Olly Murs (total prize from two visits: £10.10) is not unexpected, we're rarely without the new Robbie Williams. But Shahid Khan, he's someone new. He won £44,000 in the episode shown on 9 May 2007, when he was a self-employed music producer, and wore a thick woollen hat during the recording. One of the commentators on dond.co.uk said, "Really hope the money helps towards you fulfilling your ambitions Shahid and look forward to hearing your music!" Well, Naughty Boy (as Mr. Khan calls himself) bought a studio with his winnings, has worked with The Ubiquitous Emeli Sandé, and this week finds himself at the top of the pops with his single "La la la".

Deal or No Deal A good way to have a hit record.

Mr. Murs is at number 9, and Emmelie de Forest of the Eurovision Song Contest reached number 15. Gianluca Bezzina of Malta and Robin Stjernberg of Sweden both made the formal top 75, Margaret Berger of Norway the informal top 100. The BBC's entry? Last week's number 93 is this week's number 137, totalling perhaps 5000 sales. Bonnie Tyler's new album is called "Rocks and Honey", do be careful which you serve to the BBC producers on toast.

From shows that are hugely successful at finding talent to one that still hasn't found a star of any size. BBC The Voice of Holland of UK will be back for a third series in 2014. The BBC talent show commissioner has put out a press release saying, "Finding a Saturday night break-out hit is incredibly difficult." This week's edition of BBC The Voice of Holland of UK will go out on Friday night. Last year's winner, Leonora MacSpinnychair, released her first album proper this week. It is not expected to grace the top 100 album chart.

Not a good way to have a hit record.

More big winners: congratulations to Kerri From Uxbridge, who won £125,000 on Who's On Heart. The competition, which asks listeners to the national local radio station to identify three snippets of minor celebrity's voices, has been running since Belinda Carlisle was last famous. Suggestions that Ms Carlisle will be tapped as the next BBC entry to Eurovision are wide of the mark, because it's a song contest and not a performer contest.

BARB ratings in the week to 19 May, when Britain's Got Talent (9.1m viewers) beat the Eurovision Song Contest (7.85m) and The Apprentice (7.2m). The Cube was reduced to 3.25m, well behind HIGNFY on 5.4m. The Apprentice You're Fired scored 2.4m, Celebrity Juice 1.76m, and Come Dine with Me 1.12m. The Eurovision semi-final on BBC3 attracted 710,000; Only Connect on BBC4 attracted 785,000. Big fishes in small ponds: Pop Idle Us concluded with 210,000 viewers on 5*, about a third of its viewership on ITV2 last year. And Four Rooms is proving popular on digital shuffle channel 4seven, 125,000 people saw the Saturday repeat.

Next week: highlights from Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2, 10pm Mon), Four Rooms is back in primetime (C4, 8pm Fri), and The Voice UK finally gets to its live shows (BBC1, 7pm Friday) because Britain's Got Talent (ITV, 7.30) reaches its final.

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