Lateral

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Graeme Cole
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Lateral

Post by Graeme Cole » Mon Oct 15, 2018 10:48 pm

Note: I wrote this in May, and for some reason I never finished or posted it. Today I remembered it was there in my Drafts folder. So, five months late, here's a post about Lateral, a game show series which has long since finished.


Here's a new YouTube-based quiz show which really ought to be on real television.

Lateral - Episode 1

Lateral is devised and written by puzzle compiler and former Only Connect question editor David Bodycombe. It's presented by Tom Scott, who makes those very interesting short documentaries on YouTube. He was also on series 3 of Only Connect. Somehow he's been persuaded to wear a suit rather than his trademark red shirt.

Two teams with silly names sit either side of the host, with their desks at 45 degrees to the camera. Tom Scott opens the show with the team introductions. All sounds very Only Connect so far. Each team has two people, and there's no designated captain.

The questions are the stars of this show. They're all gettable without any niche knowledge. They're not always easy, but if you don't immediately know the answer, it's nearly always possible to work it out from what you're given. If you don't get the answer, the reaction is always "I should have known that" or "I could have worked that out", and not the dreaded "I'd never have got that".

In round 1 ("Deep Thought"), Tom reads a question, initially worth four points. A typical question is "What item of clothing is known in Japanese as a Sebiro?" The team then has up to 60 seconds to buzz. After each 15 seconds, the value of the question falls by one point and Tom gives an additional clue ("It has a London connection", "It's something to do with the sound of the word", "It has a connection to a specific street"). If the team buzzes with the wrong answer then their opponents get the remaining time.

As is hinted at by the name of the quiz, and by the names of the rounds all referring to "Thought", what is rewarded in this show is your thought process and discussion while the clock is running, not weeks of studying lists of monarchs, presidents, elements and Oscar winners or whatever it is "serious quizzers" do. In my opinion this makes for a much better and more accessible show.

Round 1 has six questions. This, and the concept of a diminishing question value as further clues are provided, seems more than a little Only Connect-esque. An important difference, though, is that the clues are revealed at fixed times rather than on request, which means you can have questions open to both teams to buzz in. The last two questions of the six are like this.

Round 2, "Second Thought", consists of a grid of twelve clues which all relate to or describe a word or concept. The clues are initially hidden, and the teams take it in turns to reveal one of the clues and have a free guess at what connects all twelve clues. Whoever gets it right first wins the round, and the fewer clues they saw, the more points they get. Four Second Thought grids are played in this round, although it's unclear whether that's the same for every show. It's possible they play more to fill the time if they get solved unusually quickly.

This is a round whose appearance is vaguely reminiscent of Only Connect's Wall, even though the gameplay isn't. The contestants choose which clue gets revealed, so the clues have to be carefully designed so that no single clue is a giveaway. This is sometimes achieved by wording the clue so it has more than one interpretation (very good as a puzzle, but I imagine these sort of clues are hard to come up with), or by making the clue quite general and vague. The latter type can sometimes prove to be a little too general for the team to do anything with, especially if that's the first clue revealed.

The third and final round, "Quick Thought", is an inspired endgame format. As with many quiz shows, the final round consists of lots of quick-fire questions. Unlike most quiz shows, the score accumulated is now discarded and doesn't form part of the final result - instead, the current leading margin is converted into a headstart. The trailing team starts with 90 seconds on their clock, and the leading team starts with that plus an additional five seconds for each point of their lead.

These clocks work like chess clocks. The trailing team starts. Tom asks questions to that team until they get one right, at which point their clock stops, the other team's clock starts, and they get the questions. There's also a ten-second penalty for each question answered incorrectly.

This continues back and forth until one of the clocks runs out, and that team loses the match.

Endgame balance is difficult to get right. On Countdown, for example, we regularly see the situation where there are still two or three rounds left to play but it's mathematically impossible for the trailing contestant to win. Even on shows without a fixed "number of points remaining", like University Challenge, if one team is far enough ahead, the last five minutes of the show can seem a bit redundant. Chain Letters tried to avoid this effect by including a chance to "tie the leader" in the last round. This certainly kept every player's hopes alive, but it went too far - it meant that a player could win the match by answering the last two questions and nothing else.

With Lateral's format, a lead built up earlier is rewarded by a stronger position in the endgame, but a team who are far behind always have a realistic hope of catching up, if they play well. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the game balance.

This is the first episode in a series of six. It will, no doubt, get pitched to production companies for television. Might their response be "it's a great format, but Only Connect already exists"?

Thomas Cappleman
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Re: Lateral

Post by Thomas Cappleman » Tue Oct 16, 2018 10:33 am

Really enjoyed these at the time, would love to see it commissioned.

My one concern is that the nature of the questions makes it easier than OC to write hints that aren't any use. In OC, each hint is an extra element of the set/sequence, so is always extra information. Here, the hint is a clarification of the original question, so a lot of times it may be information the contestants have already worked out and commented on, which isn't fun for them or the audience, especially when they then have to wait for the next clue on the timer. When it works this show really works, but it requires a fair amount of work to make sure each question is tight enough.

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Rhys Benjamin
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Re: Lateral

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Sat Oct 20, 2018 4:08 am

I also really enjoyed these at the time, not least because of the respect I have for Geoff Marshall, one of the contestants, in the transport world. Geoff, I have to say, is quite a divisive figure amongst some so this series didn't particularly go down well with some of my friends who have a grudge against him for reasons I don't need to get into now.

I really enjoyed the series, although I do have to say that I disagree on the endgame. I thought that since the team with fewer time remaining went first in the final round, they were at an even bigger disadvantage. If they changed this so the team who had more time on their clock went first in the final round, it probably would have been better. Additionally, the final round was often too difficult and very few correct answers would be given in said final round. 19 minutes is also a difficult runtime for a company to work with, since it requires at least 5 minutes of chummy, bantering filler in order to stretch it to 24 (for commercial television) or 28 for the BBC.
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Mark James
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Re: Lateral

Post by Mark James » Sat Oct 20, 2018 9:33 am

I agree that the team with less time going first is an added disadvantage. I would just have the first question be on the buzzer and whoever gets it right starts the other team's timer. Otherwise I really enjoyed it.

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