How to host an event (for dummies)?

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Rhys Benjamin
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How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Sat Sep 15, 2018 3:58 pm

I've always wanted to host a Co-event, but have no idea as to the overheads (which can vary, having looked around Brighton a little), the "best" format to use (Edinburgh? Bristol? QFs or just GF? Group and knockout?), how much organisation needs to go into the event, how many to expect (and thus how much to charge)...

So for the benefit of me, and for everyone else who has never hosted an event, could hosts and organisers please share their tips, tricks, problems, and so on?
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Graeme Cole » Sat Sep 15, 2018 7:26 pm

I've never organised an event, so I'll leave the advice about event planning to someone else, but since you ask about the "best" format to use, here are my observations from events I've attended over the years.

Personally I prefer Edinburgh (or "Lincoln") style, but a recent poll on Facebook shows a pretty even split of preferences between Edinburgh and Bristol. Use whichever works for you. Edinburgh-style requires one game set for every three players. Bristol-style requires some means of displaying selections at the front.

I've never really understood why the "group" format (often used with Bristol-style, but in principle could be used with Edinburgh-style too) has endured. You play three games, and that decides what section of the table you're going to finish in. If you're 9th after three games, you go into group B and it's impossible for you to win the tournament no matter how well you play from then on. If there aren't a multiple of eight players, you get weird fudges going on that nobody understands. What does this format offer over doing the first round with a random draw and the remaining rounds with a Swiss-style draw?

QFs or just GF? I'm assuming you mean the top N players in the tournament, rather than the thing they have in group tournaments where everyone continues playing even if they lost. If so, I would strongly recommend just playing a final, and don't bother with quarter-final and semi-final stages. If you decide to make the top 8 play quarter-finals and semi-finals, you've then got to have a third-place play-off, so you've effectively added a whole new three-game phase to the day, during which everyone who isn't in the top 8 (i.e. most of the players, unless your numbers are unusually low) just has to sit around doing nothing.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Ben Wilson » Sat Sep 15, 2018 10:27 pm

Most important things to consider when organising an event, in descending order-

-Venue
-Means of playing the game
-Refreshments
-Promotion of the event
-Prizes
-Other things like freebies
-Format of the day (related to means of playing the game but much less relevant)

(Technically you could also include 'date on calendar' in the FOCAL era but most FOCAL organisers are happy to compromise and help find a date that fits around other events)

All of these things cost money so you need to get your costs worked out before you start spending any money. Then you need to work out how many players your event is likely to get, then you can work out an entry price. Generally, Countdowners pay little attention to entry fee when entering an event though anything over £20 and people will start getting a bit reluctant. Then and only then can you start organising.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Mon Sep 17, 2018 6:00 am

Ben's absolutely right about the starting point being to work out what you think is likely to be cost, and balance it up with what is likely to be spent by attendees.

Also that the venue is the top of the list. That said, the format of the day can often be dictated by the venue. No projector screen? Probably needs to be Edinburgh style unless you happen to be a dab hand with wood (no smut please, Rhys). Long thin room? Probably better off with Bristol style as you'll need to leave a gangway for safety purposes. So I wouldn't have it as low down the list as that.

If using Facebook for an event, do not take the numbers as an assurance of entry. My policy is: Until the end stages, roughly two-thirds of those who say they're "going" will go. Roughly one-fifth who click the "maybe" will go. Maybe 5% of those who say nothing will go. Give it 2 weeks and see what happens.

As many people like free tat as dislike it according to polls. You will either see your hard effort ignored/irk people who'd rather have spent less, or you'll miff people by not providing a trinket. This is a loss-loss situation - so do what you'd rather.

Expect to hate every second of it on the day. I don't know many organisers who get a warm fuzzy feeling on the actual day. It's just a stress sandwich. The build-up can be enjoyable, but on the day, avoid human contact as much as possible as you will want to kill everyone.

Think about the weekend as a whole - suggest places where people might wish to say, look into how they might get there from major cities (and indeed from the recommended hotels to the venue itself) and consider things like restaurant bookings for an aftermeal if the desire is there. This isn't necessarily just about the day. You could do something on the Friday night if there's enough people around and your organisation is done. Maybe even Sunday lunch if enough people stick around.

Be the best version of yourself as a host - Make it your own by injecting elements of your personality that people seem to like into the day. But avoid contentious stuff. Not everyone who goes to your event will be your favourite person, but you have to treat them equally within reason.

Have someone with a car in the vicinity - You will have forgotten something no matter how many times you think you've checked your entire checklist.

I'll likely add some more, these were just the scattergun witterings that came immediately to mind first thing in the morning.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Matt Morrison » Mon Sep 17, 2018 2:21 pm

Great tips. Great idea for a thread too. I think there's a small part of all of us that is tempted to host an event, though I imagine that is almost exclusively due to either "I know this cool venue/place to go afterwards that everyone would love" or "I would love to proudly show Countdown people how great my home city/town/village in the middle of nowhere is" rather than the warm fuzzy feeling of hosting Zarte refers to (or rather refers to not existing).

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by James Laverty » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:58 pm

Again, I've never hosted a Co-Event, but just from what I've observed over the years...

Make sure you aren't doing it entirely by yourself. I've found the best run events have been when there is a mainhost, backed up by the assistant(s) host. Even if it's just people helping you set up before, it will be a lot less stressful.

Be strict with time keeping. I've found a few events have had to be cut short by slow progress on the day, or the final + prize giving has had to be rather rushed. This has happened a few ways, such as people arriving back late from lunch breaks, games being played slowly, or (Bristol style problem only), people taking too long to check words- Zarte's system of reading out the maxes is probably the best solution of this (and then check anything lower).
A way to fix this might be having is having people checking on apterous inbetween rounds, that shouldn't take too long, but I do know most CoEvent venues have pretty poor internet connection points.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm

Yes, good thread. As a player and someone who has never hosted, from my point of view I think it's a mistake for an organiser to think "OK, we've got the venue for x hours, so how many games can we cram into this period?" Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games, unless they make the final where they might be prepared to make an exception. People want to have a relaxed fun time as much as they want to play Countdown. Likewise, 15-rounders is a bit much, and 14-round finals is lunacy. And it's win-win because the players are more relaxed and if anything goes wrong, the organiser has more leeway.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:47 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games
I do. Irritates me how long people give for lunch breaks. Less wandering around, more Countdown. Or make the whole event shorter. The pub's for chilling, the Countdown tournament is for playing Countdown.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Sep 18, 2018 5:13 pm

Zarte Siempre wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:47 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games
I do. Irritates me how long people give for lunch breaks. Less wandering around, more Countdown. Or make the whole event shorter. The pub's for chilling, the Countdown tournament is for playing Countdown.
I'm up for making events shorter. I don't mind them finishing earlier or starting later.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:03 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 5:13 pm
Zarte Siempre wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:47 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games
I do. Irritates me how long people give for lunch breaks. Less wandering around, more Countdown. Or make the whole event shorter. The pub's for chilling, the Countdown tournament is for playing Countdown.
I'm up for making events shorter. I don't mind them finishing earlier or starting later.
Feel free to host one that fits your view of how one should be. I'm sure many of us would be intrigued :)
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Wed Sep 19, 2018 5:07 am

I will probably give it some more detailed thought over the next few months, but a date I wanted to work towards was late 2019 or maybe early 2020. I know that the Amex stadium hire rooms out (since it's where I took my exams in my first year at University) but I haven't been able to find anything indicating what sort of price they charge.

I have thought of a quite bizarre format, which doesn't need explaining now, but I can't see how anything featuring a knockout element would work Edinburgh-style (such as the Co:Lei summer special in 2010).
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Matt Morrison » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:03 am

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 5:13 pm
Zarte Siempre wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:47 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games
I do. Irritates me how long people give for lunch breaks. Less wandering around, more Countdown. Or make the whole event shorter. The pub's for chilling, the Countdown tournament is for playing Countdown.
I'm up for making events shorter. I don't mind them finishing earlier or starting later.
I'm somewhere in between the two, I don't really know until I get to an event whether I want it to end immediately or go on longer, I don't think it's one-size-fits-all and is dependent on many factors such as mood, crowd, opponents.

One issue is that your costs are unlikely to be reduced in the least by a shorter event - so it becomes a harder sell when you're asking contestants to stump up the same amount of money for less Countdown.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Tim Down » Sat Sep 22, 2018 4:45 pm

Graeme Cole wrote:
Sat Sep 15, 2018 7:26 pm
I've never really understood why the "group" format (often used with Bristol-style, but in principle could be used with Edinburgh-style too) has endured. You play three games, and that decides what section of the table you're going to finish in. If you're 9th after three games, you go into group B and it's impossible for you to win the tournament no matter how well you play from then on. If there aren't a multiple of eight players, you get weird fudges going on that nobody understands. What does this format offer over doing the first round with a random draw and the remaining rounds with a Swiss-style draw?
It gives everyone something to play for later on in the day, which I think is a major positive. I don't like groups for exactly the reasons you mention but I think it's possible groups are better for players finishing lower down the field than those finishing near the top (which you usually do).
Zarte Siempre wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:47 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
Basically, no-one wants to play more than six games
I do. Irritates me how long people give for lunch breaks. Less wandering around, more Countdown. Or make the whole event shorter. The pub's for chilling, the Countdown tournament is for playing Countdown.
Me too. I quite like one reasonably long break for clearing the mind and having some chat (after all, not everyone can come to the pub afterwards) but I'm all for getting on with it the rest of the time.

I'm having some vague thoughts about hosting an event in Leamington in the distant future. What makes a good venue? I would almost certainly go for Lincoln/Edinburgh/wevs style.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:53 pm

Tim Down wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 4:45 pm
I'm having some vague thoughts about hosting an event in Leamington in the distant future. What makes a good venue? I would almost certainly go for Lincoln/Edinburgh/wevs style.
For an Edinburgh-style event, space will ultimately be the most important thing. Personally I prefer it when you have a table for your group and not for 2 groups, as it gets distracting being on a different round-pattern to other people. You want to ideally either be near a station, or near to where people are likely to be staying. If this isn't possible, then factor in a slightly later start so people aren't having to make a 30 minute trek first thing in the morning. Obviously accessibility is ideal, but not always possible, and a bar is to be lauded, providing it's within a private hired area - generally I'm not too in favour of venues where the general public still impact on the experience. I would also say a venue where all points can be seen from all points is advantageous - horseshoe bars can lead to confusion.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Matt Morrison » Sun Sep 23, 2018 5:50 pm

Totally agree you cannot have more than one group per table. I'm far from the most ADD around, but I found that really distracting/annoying/frustrating at Colon.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:15 pm

Do you even need to have a third person for Edinburgh-style? I don't see why that's a necessity and why it can't be done between two?
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Ben Wilson » Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:30 pm

Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:15 pm
Do you even need to have a third person for Edinburgh-style? I don't see why that's a necessity and why it can't be done between two?
Technically you don't but you'd need to draw each round separately, and the event would only be as fast as your slowest table. This has been known to be a hassle at Scrabble tournaments (which draw each round one by one for the most part) when you get chronically slow players against each other, and Scrabble has a (supposed) time limit to each game.

And yes, Edinburgh style has this problem too, yes, but scheduling breaks after each round (as is done at COLIN) effectively eliminates this problem- if you play too slowly, tough, you get a shorter break.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:26 pm

Ben Wilson wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:30 pm
Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 9:15 pm
Do you even need to have a third person for Edinburgh-style? I don't see why that's a necessity and why it can't be done between two?
Technically you don't but you'd need to draw each round separately, and the event would only be as fast as your slowest table. This has been known to be a hassle at Scrabble tournaments (which draw each round one by one for the most part) when you get chronically slow players against each other, and Scrabble has a (supposed) time limit to each game.

And yes, Edinburgh style has this problem too, yes, but scheduling breaks after each round (as is done at COLIN) effectively eliminates this problem- if you play too slowly, tough, you get a shorter break.
Unless you were still drawing 3-in-a-row or something?
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
14-round finals is lunacy
Don't really get your thinking here.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:47 am

Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:26 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
14-round finals is lunacy
Don't really get your thinking here.
It's just an old-fashioned format. If you're going for a long final, pick 15 rounds. Conundrums at these events are pretty random, often decided by 0.1 seconds, and a two-conundrum final offers a potential 40-point swing based on this essentially random event. Conundrums work as an exciting final round to finish a game, but really should be nothing more.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Mon Sep 24, 2018 2:14 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:47 am
Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:26 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:04 pm
14-round finals is lunacy
Don't really get your thinking here.
It's just an old-fashioned format. If you're going for a long final, pick 15 rounds. Conundrums at these events are pretty random, often decided by 0.1 seconds, and a two-conundrum final offers a potential 40-point swing based on this essentially random event. Conundrums work as an exciting final round to finish a game, but really should be nothing more.
14 round finals make vastly more sense than 15 round ones do (unless the whole tournament has been 15 rounders). They don't suit me as my conundrums suck at co-events, but objectively they're better.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Mon Sep 24, 2018 5:28 pm

Zarte Siempre wrote:
Mon Sep 24, 2018 2:14 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:47 am
Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:26 pm



Don't really get your thinking here.
It's just an old-fashioned format. If you're going for a long final, pick 15 rounds. Conundrums at these events are pretty random, often decided by 0.1 seconds, and a two-conundrum final offers a potential 40-point swing based on this essentially random event. Conundrums work as an exciting final round to finish a game, but really should be nothing more.
14 round finals make vastly more sense than 15 round ones do (unless the whole tournament has been 15 rounders). They don't suit me as my conundrums suck at co-events, but objectively they're better.
In what way?

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:49 pm

Gives more attention to all 3 disciplines of the game (which unlike you I view as a selling point), speaks more to tradition to honour the occasion, likely takes fractionally less time, which I think is good for a game that only 2 people are playing (and which considering your other daft opinions, I'd have thought you'd want to save every second!), and has a better flow to it generally.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:56 pm

Zarte Siempre wrote:
Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:49 pm
your other daft opinions
:evil:

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Jon O'Neill » Wed Oct 03, 2018 11:50 am

Zarte Siempre wrote:
Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:49 pm
1. Gives more attention to all 3 disciplines of the game (which unlike you I view as a selling point),
2. speaks more to tradition to honour the occasion,
3. likely takes fractionally less time, which I think is good for a game that only 2 people are playing (and which considering your other daft opinions, I'd have thought you'd want to save every second!),
4. and has a better flow to it generally.
1. Why not use the Masters format then?
2. Why not use the Masters format then?
3. Why not use the Masters format then?
4. Why not use the Masters format then?

Answer to all of the above - cos that'd be absolutely mental. Conundrums in the middle is a bad idea that only a fool would endorse.

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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Mark Deeks » Wed Oct 03, 2018 4:22 pm

I think a key thing for a Co:Event is keeping the costs down. Event costs keep creeping up to the participant, and while a cost to offset the facility hire is inevitable, a decent proportion of it seems to be spent on the nick-nacks and individuality that I don't really want anyway. By the time transport, accommodation (if necessary), food and beverage costs are accounted for, Co:Events can get expensive, and while cutting a fiver out of the admission costs doesn't make a huge amount of inroads into that, it does help as incentive to go.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Thu Oct 04, 2018 8:26 am

Jon O'Neill wrote:
Wed Oct 03, 2018 11:50 am
1. Why not use the Masters format then?
Excellent idea. We'll rework Edinburgh style immediately.
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Graeme Cole » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:10 pm

My thoughts on conundrums, and setting them. Some of you may have heard these from me in person, perhaps several times, but this seems a suitable thread in which to write it all down so I can stop going on about it at events.

tl;dr: Don't choose obscure words for conundrums as a lazy way of making them difficult!

When setting a pile of conundrums for a co-event, there is a temptation to pick obscure words for the "difficult" conundrums, the ones intended to be given out on crucials between high-rated players, or in the final. Choosing conundrums whose difficulty arises from the low probability of either player even knowing the word is seen as an easy way of manufacturing lists of difficult conundrums.

There are two fundamental problems with this approach. First, it misunderstands the point of puzzle setting. Second, it doesn't even work.

Puzzle setter and former Only Connect question editor Alan Connor describes the setter's role in The Joy of Quiz: "Novice setters sometimes fancy that their job is to beat the contestant; it is not. Their job is to lose following a struggle."

Alan Connor was talking about quiz questions, but the same applies to conundrums or any other kind of puzzle. No conundrum setter should be patting themselves on the back because their super-hard final conundrum "defeated" the finalists.

Of course, it's not at all easy to judge whether the players will get it, and sometimes they won't. But if when you reveal the answer, it's a virtually unknown word, the players and most of the spectators will utter a collective "...?", with the sense that it was a bit of a wasted 30 seconds. On the other hand, if they recognise the word, the collectively-uttered punctuation will be more like "!", a much better ending to the tournament.

Consider the spectacle for the audience, as well, especially for the final conundrum. "I'd have got that" or "I could have got that" is always better than "I'd never have got that". Setters are - rightly - concerned about making it too easy in order to avoid the crapshoot of an instant buzzer race, but so often they tend to overcompensate the other way and it goes unsolved. Conundrum solves around the 15-25 second region are rarest, but when they happen, it's because the setter pulled off their job perfectly - to lose, after a struggle.

In the COLON 2018 final, the conundrum, WETHARDON, lasted over 20 seconds being stared at by the two finalists before one of them got it. And even if they hadn't got it, when the answer was revealed there would have been no anticlimactic "...?" Great conundrum.

It's worth noting that for all the conundrums at COLON - not just the final - Jen specifically set out to make a range of conundrum difficulties without resorting to obscure words for difficulty. There were probably more conundrums written for that event (well over 200) than for any other co-event in history, so if you're thinking of hosting an event there's no reason you can't do that too.

Another approach, if you don't mind deviating from Countdown tradition, is to do what Milton Keynes did this year, and make the conundrums ten letters long. In the past, MK's grand final conundrums were known for being so hard that the answers didn't even look like words (ACHOLURIC, anyone?), but with ten-letter conundrums it was much easier to find words that the finalists hadn't practised to death on apterous but which were still normal, everyday words.

Let's have a look at the second fundamental problem - the misconception that ramping up the obscurity provides more of a challenge to the higher-ranked players. It doesn't. The best players have played all the conundrums on apterous, and what makes a conundrum difficult to them doesn't have a great deal to do with how often the word is used. As an example, consider the following two conundrum scrambles.

ISAWKHAZI

INERTSTAR

The answer to the top one is an obscure word which most people outside of word games don't know. The answer to the bottom one is a very common word which you'll all know. However, I guarantee you that most expert players will spot the top one instantly (maybe you have already?), and take some time over the bottom one (still haven't got it?). The difficulty is nothing to do with the obscurity of the words, it's about the distribution of the letters.

For the top conundrum, a seasoned player will instantly spot the W, the Z, the K, the As and Is, and buzz in immediately with the answer. Most of the top players have seen this word before, and it's so easy to spot that they'll get it straight away. Furthermore, in terms of catering for a range of skill levels, this one is the worst of all worlds; a top player will get it instantly with no effort, but a novice player has almost no chance of getting it no matter how much they try.

Now let's look at the bottom conundrum. It's got lots of common letters. It's also got lots of building blocks of words, which conundrum solvers often use as short-cuts, and which in this case are nearly all red herrings. There's -IEST, there's -ATE, there's INTER-, -ISE, -ISER, -ITE... none of them are correct. Even if you didn't get the answer* in 30 seconds, the reaction upon seeing it is "ah!" rather than "what's that?" Even better, although this is a difficult conundrum, there's no reason a novice player couldn't solve it, and it certainly wouldn't be unfair for this conundrum to crop up in their game. They might even get it before a significantly higher-rated opponent, which would have been an impossibility with the other conundrum.

* This conundrum was used for a game at Co:Leam in 2013, and is what I usually use as an example of a "good" conundrum. While it was a valid conundrum at the time, nowadays it has an alternative, more obscure, solution.

Here's all of the above, distilled down into a graph. Imagine every conundrum is somewhere on this graph. The x-axis represents word obscurity, and the y-axis represents the difficulty of unscrambling the word assuming it's in your vocabulary. I'm not saying don't ever set obscure words (players shouldn't be entitled to assume the word won't be obscure), but I'd recommend using them only rarely. Most co-event conundrums ought to be on the left-hand half of the graph. To control conundrum difficulty, vary the position on the y-axis rather than the x-axis!

Code: Select all

Difficulty in unscrambling
   ^
   |  The "rewarded effort" corner,    The "WTF is that" corner,
   |  e.g. RESTRAINT.                  e.g. ACHOLURIC,
   |       HANDWROTE                        MRIDANGAM
   |
   |
   |  The "buzzer race" corner,        The "worst of all worlds" corner,
   |  e.g. EXPLODING                   e.g. WAKIZASHI
   |
   +---------------------------------------------------------->   Obscurity of word

Gavin Chipper
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Oct 10, 2018 4:41 am

Nice post.

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Matt Morrison
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Re: How to host an event (for dummies)?

Post by Matt Morrison » Wed Oct 10, 2018 8:51 am

Yeah Graeme at his best.

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