Weaver's Week 2013-06-09

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This week's column continues a puzzle trail. We're still waiting for the puzzles to go up at http://www.playdash.org/DASH5 and we're still going to give some massive spoilers. So, careful now.



London, 25 May

When we last saw our heroes, they were in the café of UCL Hospital, lifting clues from one connecting wall to another. This was to solve one part of the Different Area Same Hunt event, a skein of puzzles presenting a challenge for even the most experienced puzzler. This column was on a team with World Puzzle Championship players Ronald Stewart and Chris Dickson, and with seasoned puzzlers and Countdown players Gary Male and Daniel Peake.

It's wall or nothing.

The puzzles in DASH are used to tell a story: so far, we'd heard that there was some sort of disease of the mind going around, worked out the area of the brain affected and the method of transmission. The final set of links in the connecting walls revealed the initial patient. This puzzle was a joy to complete: not just because we knew the basic idea from 100 episodes of Only Connect, but scrambling some of the clues and re-using them demonstrated how words have two meanings. The artistry in this puzzle was obvious, and we had time to appreciate it. We've written in the past about 2.8 Hours Later, another game of eight challenges loosely hanging around a story; this column's view is that DASH told its story far more eloquently, because every action is directly relevant to the plot.

And then to move on to the next stop. It's a short trip down Houston Road, the street named after a particularly groansome Accumulate! pun. The Euston Tap, back in the day, was part of a decorative arch, an imposing frontispiece to Euston station. It was demolished when the station was rebuilt in the 1960s, a particularly brutal piece of Brutalist architecture. These days, the Euston Tap is a pub, selling all sorts of beer and cider. One of the team is known for his inability to pass a pub, and we quickly found a seat upstairs, and some soft drinks, and brought in the puzzle.

Regular puzzle solvers have two approaches to teams. Some prefer to release all the puzzles at once, letting the teams split up and solve the individual atoms in parallel, individually. Others believe that five heads working on the one puzzle promotes the best experience, and release the puzzles in sequence, solve number 4 before releasing number 5. DASH firmly believes in this serial concept, but it does allow for some parallel working.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Puzzle five was based around the released LPs and CDs of patient zero. There were six recorded works, and six puzzles of variable difficulty, each giving clues to the first ten songs. A fit the words into a grid puzzle and a selection of simple rebuses (a picture of two hearts indicates a song called "Two hearts") would detain no-one. A counting puzzle could also be solved in moments, once the correct album had been identified. Three letter words contained in the song titles ramped up the difficulty a little. Then there was a scramble, mixing up the letters of a song and a symbol, and some cryptic definitions that also contained a symbol. Once each sheet had been completed, arithmetic operations on the symbols revealed two letters in the song titles, and when arranged in chronological order, these spelled out two words.

All of this is very worthy, and more than a little wordy. Possibly too wordy: it was the third significant puzzle out of four asking us to answer definitions and solve modest crossword clues. Even within the confines of a paper test (expensive props are not possible in a distributed event with zero budget), surely there's a way to use a sudoku, or a latin square, or a colour-the-map puzzle.

The word puzzles continued with the next one, which – once more – asked for definitions fitting various modest crossword clues. It quickly emerged that these answers overlapped with each other – an answer of "stone" would be followed by "neon" and "once" and "celery" and so on. The strings of letters could be fitted onto the one and only DASH prop: The Cube.

The Cube was a massive, gigantic perspex box, ten foot in every direction, and filled with challenges to test people to the limit. DASH was held in a dozen locations, it's run on a budget closer to zero than infinity, and it couldn't afford twelve clones of Phillip Schofield. Couldn't even afford twelve people dressed as The Body. They could afford a Gordon the Gopher-sized small cardboard cube for each team, and that's what we scribbled on.

Can this team conquer The Cube?

Sometimes, it's not enough to complete the clues and put them in place. The rubric for each puzzle contains gentle clues, to help progress from "so now what" to "ah, that's what". In this case, cubes are three-dimensional objects, with corners and edges, sometimes with correspondences. This column's team spotted the link straight away, and solved out the puzzle a few minutes later.

We left the Euston Tap having taken little more than half-an-hour to solve both puzzles and have a glass of cola (the full-strength stuff) and use the facilities. Another of the teams were looking into the cube shortly after we arrived, and were still looking at the cube as we left. Like all the teams, they're entitled to take clues to help them out of a sticky situation. Taking clues is an integral part of the experience, allowing a team to get to the final puzzle, because that's always a work of art.

So yes, we left the Euston Tap, picking our way through the fans of Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, the men's football teams in town for the 1. Bundesliga Finalspiele, which was being held at a building site in Neasden. Working along the Houston Road, we passed a pub, heading for something quintessentially British. Such as, the British Library courtyard. Dodge the tour guides, skip past the readers made pale and pasty by their lack of sunlight. And not check them too closely for a pulse.

So busy, we had to borrow a photo. By Chris John Beckett, used under CC-BY-NC-ND license

By now, we had engaged gears, were firing on all cylinders, and puzzles seven and eight went in short order. Seven was a picture quiz, pairs of sketches that differed by just one or two letters. Some pairs went horizontally, some went vertically, and the unmatched pictures held the solution. Puzzle eight proved that, in a DASH puzzle, nothing is left to chance. Every dot is important, every comma is important, and some puzzles don't involve wordplay at all.

And then it was back to the Rocket pub, the one we'd passed half-an-hour earlier. Here, we were given an envelope containing hexagon connections. These, we were told, would fit together to form a shape. The clue to fitting them together was something connecting all the answers. Each of them contained a preposition, and a preposition that could help to order the cardboard cutouts. Then there was a path to trace, spelling out the final set of instructions. Solve that, submit the answer, find it's right, avert the pandemic, and pull up a really hot cup of tea.

Arrange these pieces into the logical order.

That was that. This column had gone in, expecting to have a good walk in good company in London, meeting some elegant puzzles, and – between the lot of us – expecting to solve some of them unaided. We certainly met some elegant puzzles, and such was the calibre of our companions that we solved the lot of them without assistance. DASH enjoyed a short but well-written story, one where the plot was advanced by the supplied text and by the puzzle answers. The quality of the walk? Not there: five-minute strolls along the traffic-laden Houston Road don't cut it. But that's the biggest disappointment of the day.

Competitive types will wish to note that DASH is a contest, they do keep score, and this column's team finished second in London and 13th amongst all 294 teams. This column prefers not to keep score, but to enjoy the experience, and to salute the efforts of Jordan and Lisa and the other organisers and helpers. All things considered, we don't think the puzzles are impossible – they'll be fine for readers who get through magazines like Puzzles Monthly, or the pull-out supplements in the quality press. We intend to go back next year, and encourage others who might be interested to join in. Join us. Or beat us.

Only Connect

Series 7, heat 4: General Practitioners v Fell Walkers

Walls 293 and 294, and we're finding teams D and R. Is there one in the house? There are three in the house. The GPs have high blood pressure and sweaty palms, the Fell Walkers have played pantomime dames on at least seven occasions. Oh yes they have.

The GPs are first into bat, and they could have gone for three points, but take an extra clue to confirm they're seeing things found in caves. Music for the Walkers, Placebo, Ultravox, Procol Harem, Status Quo. Just getting in before the buzzer, band names derived from Latin. Meaning, in order, "I will please", "Loud voice", "Beyond those things", and "Unfathomably old rockers who make Cacofonix sound appealing." 2-1 to the GPs.

"Heroes and Villains" and "King of the Kippax" are the first of some football-related titles. Not songs they sing, but titles of the clubs' semi-official fanzines. That goes for a bonus to the Walkers, who get the first wordplay question in yonks. Surfeited: 4-8-9, Encourage: 5-6-8-9, Strives: 2-3-4-6-7, and the team doesn't get to see the final clue (Myself: 1-4) before having to buzz in. The letters spell out "fed", "urge", "tries" and "me", synonyms, and a really well-earned bonus. 3-2 to the GPs.

Ellis Peters in the next set. Wasn't that the inventor of rugby? No! George Eliot is the giveaway, women who have used male pen-names for a point. Which leaves pictures for the Walkers, a child driving a bus, QI's Alan Davis, a mouse in dungarees, and that's the giveaway. Baby Jake, Jonathan Creek, a mouse with clogs on, and 4-4 the score.

Sequences crop up next, the GPs turn Puppet to Pauper and buzz when they wanted to call "Next". It's not Pirate, because that's the third in the clue. No, it's "Poet", from the song "That's life". Now, if Green is "no severe conditions", then surely Red is going to be "Remain Indoors", being the sort of weather warning given out by Victoria's husband. Except it's actually "Take action", unless you're on the scoreboard, it's still 4-4.

Back to the GPs: Red and green ring, Black and white sectors, Green ring. They have no idea, and are given another shot on "red ring", it's actually a red circle, being the middle bit of a dart board. Pictures for the Walkers: a book, peas in a pod, a telephone. Their guess is vertebrae, which isn't in the right postal district. Lily pad, that'll do, being successive products by the Apple company, and a bonus for the GPs 5-4.

Geography on their own question: Addis Ababa, Bogotá, Quito, so we're talking sizeable cities on the equator, but it's not that. It's that great U2 song elevation, finishing with La Paz and a bonus. For the Walkers, it's Homo, Homoinidae, Primates, and thence up to Mammalia. Two points there, the only question not passed over in that round, for a 7-5 lead.

The host has a new nameplate this series.

The second set begins with the connecting walls. Walkers begin with a bunch of bugle calls, but only make one guess before moving on to specific animal lairs. "Boots and Saddles" is a standout clue, and we're reckoning there's a bunch of characters from BBC2's This Life programme. Eventually the bugle calls does come out, and is the last group things that can be beaten? Indeed: this team has beaten the wall. Ten points!

GPs have their work cut out, not that they know it. They find four 80s computer games in very short order, then go looking for types of basket. This doesn't happen, and they go off to the other side of the board with a set of underlinen. Suddenly, the team spots a bunch of synonyms for "scarper". So which of the ones they think is clothing is actually a container? Pannier was the lynchpin, it allows Victoria to talk about her underwear. Don't catch Paxman doing that, do you. (Thank goodness.) Ten points!

17-15 to the Walkers going into Missing Vowels, which begins with ways of summarising a life's work. That goes to the Walkers by 2-1, then Water Sports goes to the GPs by 3-1. Villains in animation includes Gargamel from the Smurfs and that top racing driver Dick Dastardly. Like weather phenomena, that round goes to the Walkers by 3-1, and Prepositions is with the Walkers by 2-1. Which means the Walkers have won by 28-22.

Next week, it's the first match in the Yet To Win bracket, as the Corpuscles take on the Cartophiles.

This Week And Next

The Fighting Talk programme last Saturday evening was meant to be an end-of-series jamboree, with four of the regulars appearing live at the Liverpool Arena for a show with an audience. It turned sour with a blokeish discussion of Clare Balding, the ubiquitous sports presenter and occasional game show host. And things took a very unsavoury turn in the final minute, when host Colin Murray invited a contestant to argue, "Give me 20 minutes with her and I'm pretty sure I could turn around Clare Balding." And not in the sense of a u-turn, either. We thought Mr. Murray was above such bone-headed and narrow-minded sexism, and we're sad to find he's not. Still, given 20 minutes with him, we're sure we could listen to Mr. Murray's apologies. Neither Ms Balding nor her wife have commented on this regrettable event.

One from Shows Before They're Shown, our occasional file of fake formats:
My Man Can't (ITV) Mark Wright fronts a show that purports to test couples' relationships, but is actually a test of endurance for commissioners. Will the show make it to air, or will the complete series be abandoned for being "too rubbish"?

Ratings for the week to 26 May, when Britain's Got Talent secured 8.1m on a sunny bank holiday Sunday. The Apprentice (7.7m) topped on BBC1, ahead of BBC The Voice of Holland of UK (6.95m). Some commentators are calling this a flop. But just to set that in context, it's a third more than the drama Game of Thrones – that had 5.25m viewers right across North America last weekend. It's as popular as an unexceptional mid-series edition of Have I Got News for You, though at least Alexander Armstrong kept his kit on.

Elsewhere, Celebrity Catchphrase (4.05m) and Mr and Mrs (3.7m) both beat the 1. Bundesliga Finalspiele, with The Chase (2.85m) not so far behind. The Apprentice You're Fired (2.55m) topped BBC2's game shows, Celebrity Juice concluded (1.91m), and Come Dine with Me (950,000) and Deal or No Deal (830,000) are getting alarmingly close to Only Connect (730,000).

After the obscurity of the past two weeks, next week's Week should look at the somewhat more popular Britain's Got Talent final. Later this week, the return of Mock the Week (BBC2, 10pm Thu) and The Million Pound Drop (C4, 9pm Fri). No-one bothers to show Eurovision Young Dancers (youngdancers.tv, 8pm Fri), and there's Big Brother (C5, 9pm Thu). BBC The Voice returns to Saturday (BBC1, 7pm), don't forget to miss it.

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