Martin Gardner's Experience - Page 2

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If you read the first part of my experience, you will know that I had become an Octochamp with a modest aggregate of 746, one of the lower scores of all-time (well, two years!). Nevertheless, I am second seed. It feels good to see my name with a '#2' next to it. Only John Davies who I had met at the original recordings had fared better. We had a good chat, including one with Derek Pollard who had the misfortune to finish 9th. He had lost on the conundrum DILATETUM, and all he could get was the wrong MULTITUDE in his head.

Julian had come down to be part of Dictionary Corner, and of course to see me! I also bumped into Alison, and (remembering our chat a month ago) she greeted me like a long-lost brother. 'Good to see you mate' seemed to be the emphasis. I asked her about the email address and she said that they had changed email server. I'll leave you to make our own minds up, but Julian didn't believe her.

The line-up for the finals was revealed, and I was due to play Peter Jeffery. I had seen his run on TV and he had beaten me with a few words like TRIVIAL during his run. I was expecting some competition. I was chatting to him beforehand in the audience, and he repeatedly reminded me that I was the one under pressure, not him.

John Davies vs. Christine Scott:

We watch game one from the audience, and both players get off to a good start including a nine (which I missed, oops!). A tricky numbers fails to fool either player (me and John were having a competition to see who could be nastier to Carol!) and I got it too. As the second half begins, John pulls ahead with TANGELO (got it) and ATTENDS (didn't). I am 25 behind John now. Christine shocks us all by choosing all small, and both players get a round figure - 000. I get four away. Next, John get CORNIEST but Christine sees a nine - CROONIEST. Shame it's not allowed. However I had spotted CORTISONE and that put me level with John now. Two letters games follow and another choice of six small ones. Christine declares the same as last time (I really question her tactics) and John gets one away. I spot the method 32 x 9 - 3 to get it exact, and go ten ahead of John. Neither of us gets the conundrum. But Peter Jeffery does.

Peter was feeling confident as he had two nine-letter words in the previous game. I had only one, but had decided to conserve my concentration (this after reading Graham Nash's experience - go on, read it later!). I am feeling pretty nervous, but am keen to get on with it.

Martin Gardner vs. Peter Jeffery:

The game starts off with the letters HDSEOAYPT. AT first only sixes jump out at me, but then the word HEAD, and POTHEADS for eight! How many people get to say that word on TV? I get the impression this rattles Peter, who had six, and I beat him with another eight. A usual four-large selection to follow, although I had been practising all small and was very tempted. Peter uses the 50 twice and it's me with a 23-point lead.

More nerves from Peter as he misses BOASTED and MATURED. I'm gaining a big lead. Peter chooses one large and an awkward target of 148 produces itself. Panic hits me, as I fear I am going to mess up on an easy game. Peter gets it (with about two seconds to spare, he tells me) and he has made up some ground.

After the break I played worriedly, I missed RAIDERS and CURTAIL, although I did manage to offer the elegant GIAOUR (I knew it was a non-follower of a religion, I just forgot which one). Another ten on the numbers and my score is 91 before SCOOPGREY is revealed. Eleven seconds for me to find GYROSCOPE and it's my fifth century. Pity that numbers game didn't pay off, 111 would have been my highest score.

It was a shame because Peter made some silly mistakes, due to nerves. It could have been much closer.

David Wilson vs. Patrick Vowles:

The winner of the next match would determine my opponent, so I was watching avidly. David Wilson pulled off some great words, RACEME, POLEMICS, OUTSTRIP and would have beaten me. SOULMOANA was shown and he beat me on that too.

Andrew Tatham vs. Ian Buckley:

It's a close start, until Andrew gets TURGID, seven for him on the numbers and words like RATHOLE and TARDILY assure that he wins. The conundrum GRANAREER is unveiled and typically, when I am not in the hot seat, I get it in one second!

Next is John Davies (last score 105) vs. Andrew Tatham (100). This could go in any direction. It's a close start, but in the end John pulls away with AMUSEDLY and BOOTLEGS, plus some good numbers. Andrew strikes back with URBANITE but it is too late. John is in the final.

It's now the end of recording and time to go home. I talk to Julian in the bar and he revealed that he "was nervous before my quarter-final" and he only got 125 against none other than Mike Brown, a match that reminded me of my fourth game where I was marginally ahead most of the way, then pulled ahead.

The other person I talk to is David Wilson, my opponent for the next day. He was on Brain of Britain, also a semi-finalist (I think) and he gave us the question he lost on. It was 'what is the dog called in Frasier' - after about five seconds I produced 'Eddie' and got it correct!

Time to sleep, and the biggest shock - I slept like a baby...

The next day at the studios, they decide that the Series 50 games will be filmed before the final. This only gives semi-finalists David and me more time to get nervous. It's me, David and John in the green room, me with a novel, David with the paper and John with a pen and pad playing along.

I'm getting really nervous as we go on, and I have to be taken off set and lie down before I can continue. The task ahead is huge!

David Wilson vs. Martin Gardner:

The game starts with six each, although I should have seen the oft-appearing PROTIUM for seven. Next I offer CONIES, which is disallowed - then allowed again! A bit of editing methinks. Now I offer UPRATED to David's PALTER -in the lead like every other game I have played. However David pegs me back with MORGUES, and ten each on the numbers game. The score is 29-29.

A bit of a slide as I can only offer sixes for the next few rounds, and David beats me with CHASTEN and COURSED. This may be my last game, so I decide it is time... for SIX SMALLS! A target of 314 comes up, and with some difficulty I get 314, as does David.

Another victory for David with HORRIDLY to my HOLIER and the game is all over. As for the numbers, I choose two small and three large, and let Carol choose the last (she chose a small one, I would have chosen a big one, but now we know) and a dead easy target of 179 comes up (well, there were a 100, 75 and 4 in the selection!). I am out of it, but here comes the conundrum. MADSNORTS turns around and I have no idea what it is. I write it down, and put my finger over letters ADSN and am left with MORTS. I find SANDSTORM is 26 seconds and have departed on a high note.

As for how I felt after the game, at first relief. I was putting massive pressure on myself to make the final, and in the end that was my downfall. David played well however. In fact in the last eight letters games, he offered 7-7-6-7-7-7-8-7 with 10 on all three numbers. I was just happy to keep him under 100.

As for the final, click here to see it. David got hit by nerves and John played smoothly as ever, with some nice words like FURRIEST and some excellent numbers. In case you are interested (and more than one person has emailed me about this), John would have won on a crucial conundrum against me.

As for afterwards, some champagne and some book signing, a question and answer session with the great Geoffrey Durham and importantly no sign of Susie who promised to buy me a drink after disallowing CONIES. It was a great experience and I am glad I applied (see index page if you are interested); I met some sterling people like John and David.

What next, Champion of Champions? We'll see...

Oh, and I never did go back to Allison...

Martin Gardner

[This article was written in September 2003]

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