Saturday, 3 September 2016

Vox Ludio: Matt Hamer

An Apterite for well over 7 years and a Co-event veteran, Matt Hamer is one of the most enduring, endearing and enigmatic figures on the site. Read on to read what he has to say on Countdown, concerts and coupledom (and play his Easter Egg game!)...

You joined Apterous back in 2009 - over 7 years ago. How has it changed in that time?

I’ve always been a Scrabble® player first and foremost – Countdown is my second wordy hobby, really. Whilst I was a regular viewer of Countdown in the ’80s, it was the appointment of Jeff Stelling as host which renewed my interest in watching. The lure of Apterous was then too strong: even in its early days, it looked great, and it was rammed with innovative features and challenges – it became so much more fun to play than ISC (Internet Scrabble Club).

As the years have passed since then, Charlie has continued to develop and add features to Apterous. But alongside these technical enhancements are the changes in how Apterites themselves have used the website creatively. It perhaps began when players found new meta-games: pencil-mining, achievement collecting, and high-score hunting. It’s continued with Apterites now using infrastructure that Charlie has put in place, to lead all sorts of diverse initiatives for the benefit and enjoyment of others: dictionary updates, elaborate tournaments, The Mole, quizzes, to name a few.

In parallel with this increased sense of community, the in-person Countdown scene has grown tremendously, with Apterites supporting online friends during TV recordings, and a flourishing Co-event (unofficial in-person tournament) calendar. Apterites should be proud of their contributions to both the online and in-person games.

What have your favourite Apterous moments been?

Online, my favourite moments have encompassed gameplay (maxing an Aegilops Letters Attack after 864 attempts; and a Stepdown tournament which proved a thriller of a climax to Marcus’ 2012 Aptolympics); as well as the characters who have made Aptochat a hugely entertaining forum to frequent (anyone have time for a quick top 5?).

In person, I’ve attended 25 Co-events, and these provided me with a Countdown moment I’ll keep forever: Michael Wallace presenting me with a trophy at Co:Lon 2011. As far as English language Countdown play is concerned, I’ve now retired and returned to Scrabble, but I’m delighted by the success of FOCAL, and I’ll continue to attend one event a year. Ben, I’ll see you in Lincoln for my “hands glued to head” pose!

Is there any particular reason why you chose Spongebob Squarepants as your avatar?

Genuinely, little thought went into it. I like SpongeBob, although I could equally have chosen one of many animated characters. Ironically, for an Apterite represented by a character who lives in a pineapple under the sea, I react adversely to the enzyme BROMELAIN found in pineapples. (A valid 9 in CSW, but not yet in ODO, if anyone's wondering.)

You’re one of the most prolific foreign language players. What are your favourite languages, and why?

Other than English, the only language I can hold a proper conversation in is Dutch, although I can understand German and French reasonably well. Dutch has a wonderful flexibility in its sentence structure, and Dutch speakers enthusiastically adopt loanwords and new idioms in a natural way. It gives the language a wonderful capacity to convey different nuances of meaning. I sometimes wish native UK English speakers were less resistant to evolution of their language – I wish they wouldn’t condemn contemporary words or spellings like LOSINGEST, SRSLY, MINISCULE.

But which language is the most fun to play on apterous?

I concentrate on three or four Apterous languages, but I’m always impressed by the Apterites with a command of seemingly all of them. Miriam, Phyl, Catriona, Adam G, and others, are particularly talented in this regard.

Dutch and German are my favourite languages to play on Apterous, because of the quirks of the Apterous lexicons. In particular, the Dutch lexicon, which was a huge word list scraped from various sources, and was really meant for a spellchecker, includes all sorts of bizarre entries (NEWAGECD, SEXCAM, PARADISEBYTHEDASHBOARDLIGHT). I quite enjoy the challenge of spotting these in amongst more conventional words.

You’re also one of the most consistent players of the Daily Duel on the site. Back in the day, you were pretty vocal in Aptochat about messing up rounds - are you more relaxed about playing the game now, or just quieter when you’re unhappy with your performance?

The monthly Duel competition rewards a combination of playing conservatively every day (not risking words or fudging numbers), and good knowledge of the regular high-scoring words in less popular variants (Unlimited, Aegilops and Omelette). As most of Apterous’s very top players either don’t play every Duel, or have never bothered with the more off the wall variants or languages, it leaves the minor placings open to lesser Apterites.

And yes, I had a history of dealing with my frustrations about bad luck by venting them in aptochat. There came a point though when I realised that this was rather antisocial. Around the same time, my outlook on life became a little more relaxed, so nowadays any annoyance at muffing a Duel subsides almost straight away. Apologies to anyone who I used to offend with my outbursts.

As half of one of the community’s most lovable couples, what romantic advice do ‘Hayfield’ have for Apterous’s budding young Romeos and Juliets?

Ha, allowing me to dispense romantic advice might be dangerous, but I’d say meeting people with common interests is a good bet! If you happen to have a love of words and arithmetic puzzles, then with aptochat online, plus FOCAL’s ever-growing circuit of in-person events, you have more opportunities than ever of meeting like-minded individuals. Some of these, you might also have the hots for, and if the number of Countdown-related couples is an indicator, then some of these might well like you back.

You’ve lived in several different countries. Tell us some stories from your time abroad!

I loved the vibrant music scene in the Netherlands; in the summers, I would spend weekends watching bands in fields, and nights DJing at student parties. I got to chat with Moby, stomped on the foot of a popular showbiz personality, and appeared on TV dancing to Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Early nights and clean living were more my thing by the time I moved to Texas. I ran my first half-marathon in San Antonio (being careful not to urinate on the Alamo, like Ozzy Osbourne). I spent an evening at a small-town rodeo and country dance, although I’m not quite sure how I got to be there. I remember mostly being terrified of having to dance with the local Texan girls. Of course, they were just being friendly by chatting to the visiting guy with the English accent; I was trying desperately to hide that I had no clue how to two-step.

Anyone who’s Facebook friends with you will be aware of your astonishing commitment to going to gigs. What are your best gigs of all time, and which artist would you most like to see live?

Music has been profoundly important for most of my life, and I love most the experience of hearing, and watching, music being played live. Over twenty years after the first live show I saw, I’ve now seen nearly a thousand. Favourites have included that very first show – the now greatly missed songwriter and performer Kirsty MacColl – and a trip to California to see the re-activated pop/punk legends the Go-Go’s. A more unusual, but equally memorable gig, was an Idlewild show where singer Roddy Woomble was taken ill shortly before showtime. Rather than cancel the show, the remainder of the band played a free, full set, inviting a fan on stage to sing each song. It was wonderful to watch those 20 or so music-lovers feeling invincible as they lived out their rock fantasies that night.

With many of my favourite bands re-forming in recent years, there are few remaining acts on my wish list of those I still haven’t seen. I’d love Voice Of The Beehive to re-form, and I hope that recently reactivated Scottish mid-’90s indie-poppers The Secret Goldfish will play once again. Of acts who are better known, I somehow never got to see the fabulous Pulp. (You’re missing out! – Ed)

In your opinion, what was the best year for music?

Music and me are inextricably linked, and I do associate years with their music.

Amid the economic and political depression, the short period from 1977 was an incredibly creative time for music. The DIY rebellion of punk rock, followed by the new electronic sounds of the first homebuild synthesisers, yielded bands who I still love today – the Go-Go’s, Buzzcocks, the Human League, OMD among the bigger names.

It’s difficult to narrow that period of punk and new wave to a defining single year, so if I were pushed, I might also pick 1996. In the wake of the Britpop explosion, major labels were throwing cash at guitar acts, and the smaller independents were blossoming. Ash, Slingbacks, Pullover, Kenickie, Helen Love, Spacemaid… some of these bands fizzled out after only a few singles, some are still active today, but all of them hold wonderful memories for me.

Final question - if you were to host a dinner party, what would your menu be?

It depends whether I have to prepare the food – my repertoire of “things I can cook that are good enough to serve to other people” is limited. There are however two dinner parties I’ve always wanted to organise, but have yet to do so. One would be based on what was hilariously considered the height of dinner party style in the late ’70s, so prawn cocktail in limp lettuce for starter, something stodgy and beefy for main, and Viennetta or chocolate fondue for dessert, all washed down with Liebfraumilch. It would also be – of its time – lovingly un-PC (the ladies would all drink sherry, those cranky vegetarians would be disdainfully served nut roast). And the other idea? Well, as soon as I can come up with a full menu of dishes which both sound rude, and look rude... you can bring the cock soup.

Matt's Postscript

For the pop music fans, I’ve concealed an Easter egg (or more specifically, 10 Easter eggs) into my replies. Can you uncover the well-known act who inspired me?

[Answer in white text below]

The text contains the titles of Michael Jackson’s ten studio albums (Got To Be There; Ben; Music & Me; Forever, Michael; Off the Wall; Thriller; Bad; Dangerous; HIStory; Invincible).

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Vox Ludio: Jack Worsley

I interviewed Apterous's current Top Dog, Jack Worsley [pictured left with his broken COLIN Hangover trophy], for Countdown in Leeds's successful and very entertaining 'match programme' last month. So here's a FOCAL special for Vox Ludio with the series 66 champion...

You’re top of the FOCAL league after 3 events. How do you feel the season is going for you so far?
Of course I'm happy to be at the top but there's still a long way to go. I think FOCAL's a cool idea and, although it hasn't changed my approach to events too much, it certainly adds a new dimension to them for many people. I'm sure we'll be able to call it a success come December.

In February, you were pipped to the post at CoBristol in a close final against Jack Hurst. What was going through your mind during the game?
I felt reasonably relaxed throughout. I was surprised when a couple of my words were disallowed - particularly RETABLED - but I got the rub of the green with the new words at both COLIN events. Therefore, I couldn't complain when things went against me. The other Jack was a worthy winner. You'd have thought he'd never been away from the Countdown scene. In reality, it was his first event for over two years.

How are you going to bounce back from that defeat?
I won't change too much. I never take Co-events too seriously (it's not the Olympics) so I'll just go there, have fun and see what happens. And I may try and bribe the host to make things easier. We'll see.

How do you feel about your chances at CoLeeds?
It's tough to say. I have cut down on the Apterous practice recently, so that should make things interesting. I hope to be challenging, but there are many tough obstacles to overcome. You can never say for certain what will happen, which is part of the appeal.

Who would you say is your main rival at Leeds, and why?
It would be unfair to narrow it down to one as the field for Leeds is very strong. Innis Carson has an unbelievable record, so he would be the obvious choice. Then there's Kirk Bevins, who never seems to lose it, despite having played very little in the last three years. I think there are a few potential winners, though, with other honourable mentions going to Dan McColm, Zarte Siempre, Tom Carey and your good self [Jen]. And then there's the awesome Conor Travers. I know he's not expected to attend, but that's still no reason to rule him out.

What does your manager, Paul Worsley, say to you in the dressing room before the start of a tournament?
Being from a sciencey background (he worked as a pharmacist), he's often advising me on the dietary front. I prefer not to do things scientifically, so I just do my own thing. On the whole, he's very supportive, which is a great help.

Countdown-loving children across the country look up to you as a role model. What are your top tips for getting to the top of the anagramming game?
There really is no massive secret. Like with anything, you need to practise hard to get to the top. Never underestimate your own potential. I remember watching the Series 64 final between Adam Gillard and Edward McCullagh. I was in awe of them at the time and I thought I would never be able to get near them. Less than a year later, I won the Series 66 final. Also, don't panic when you suffer a dip in form, as it happens to everyone. When it comes to Co-events, just enjoy them and you'll gain more from the experience. And of course join Apterous.

Finally, what’s your favourite type of biscuit?

Do Jaffa Cakes qualify as biscuits? If not, I'll say custard cream, but there aren't many types that I don't like.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Vox Ludio: James Robinson

It's been a while since the last Vox Ludio (nearly 2 1/2 years, in fact), but what better way to get back into the swing of it than by interviewing long-time Apterous favourite and gameshow legend James Robinson? The Mirfield maestro shares his thoughts here...

Hi James, how’s your day been?
Hey Jen, it's not been a bad day today. It's a nice day off, as I've just been celebrating my 28th birthday, I never work on my birthdays, as where's the fun in that?? 

Of course, the first question in any interview with you has to be: how are ‘the Terriers’ [Huddersfield Town FC] doing at the moment?

Well, as any Town fan will tell you, the first thing we want is to have an entertaining team who will get us great results. At the start of the season, that wasn't happening, but our brilliant chairman, Dean Hoyle (a lifelong Town fan), made probably the biggest gamble in the club's history by hiring the (unknown in this country) German-American David Wagner.

And what a move that was!! His "Gegenpressing" ethos has made Town a much fitter team, a much stronger team, and a team to be feared. The amount of times that fans from other teams have compared us to Barcelona this season is unreal!!!

And while we might not quite get all the results together yet, it's a very promising future we have with our youngsters mixing in with some shrewd signings. Philip Billing (our young Danish holding midfielder, who scored a cracker against Forest last weekend) is a name to look out for in the coming months/years.

You’re famous for your boundless enthusiasm for all things Countdown, be it recaps, Co events or being in the studios. What is it about Countdown that you love so much?

I remember first watching the show at 3 years old, at first I liked the music and title sequence (this one, in particular) I remember getting my first word when I was about 6/7 (SLEDGE, it was), getting my first conundrum at about 8 (had to be CHOCOLATE ) and my first 9 at about 11 (DECANTING, which I spotted after about a second or so).

In the early days, of course, it was set in Leeds, and living just 10 miles away in Mirfield, I felt a sense of local pride and I even dreamt of being in the audience - but being young at the time, I didn't realised it was pre-taped, and thought it was live!! 

I think the thing I love about it most is that it's a simple concept. "Here are some letters, make a word out of them; here are some numbers, use maths to solve the problem; here's an anagram, unscramble it."

When I watched the show as I was going into my teens, I thought I was getting better, my maths was always decent, but I thought my vocabulary was OK (that was until Julian Fell in 2002, then Apterous, after I went on the second time, came along... and since attending my first CO-event in 2010, it's amazing to see how people with so much dedication can get so knowledgeable).

I'd say I really like the behind the scenes aspect of the show when I go into the audience. Until you go into the audience, you only have a rough idea how everything works, and it's the same when I do other quiz/game shows. To me, learning all the cool bits behind the scenes is an extra bit that I enjoy in a sort of geeky way. 

With FOCAL tournaments lined up in St Albans and Huddersfield this year, you’ve got plenty to work on behind the scenes. Describe your ultimate Co event, if money were no object!

If I could have an ultimate CO-event, first, I'd get the current Countdown studio, as we definitely need that, especially with the big clock. I would get Rachel as we need her for my benefit.  I'd get Tim Vine in to be our day-long DC guest, cos he was just amazing when I had him as a guest back in 2009. He'd keep us entertained all day, especially once my jokes dry up!!  I'd also bring back all the legends, who we haven't seen/heard of for ages, e.g. Julian Fell, Harvey Freeman, Allan Saldanha, Scott Mearns, etc., so we could have a super awesome tournament. And since the Pointless game worked well at COHUD last time, maybe bring half the Pointless studio in as well for a bit of mid-game fun, along with Richard Osman, as he's super necessary to make it a proper Pointless show. 

You’ve been on plenty of gameshows besides Countdown - Eggheads, Mastermind and Pointless to name a few. What’s been your favourite gameshow experience? Are you planning to apply for any others?

I would say Eggheads is my favourite, because normally when I go on other game shows, I go on by myself. I feel that like on Countdown, not relying on others makes it easy on yourself, as you know your own strengths and weaknesses, but not your team-mates, but the fact that my team became only the 10th team EVER to take the Eggheads down to one for the final is just something remarkable. I would've been happy just for it to be 3-3, but the fact that pretty much everything went our way (up until the last bit) was just unbelievable. It'll certainly take some beating!!!

I have applied for other shows now (I had to wait until Eggheads was on until I could apply for others), but I now am having an audition for Only Connect, and I do hope that I can finally get on The Chase real soon, and hopefully take on Paul "The Sinnerman" Sinha, as he has a great love of Countdown, like us lot. 

As a born and bred Yorkshireman, what are some of your favourite things about Yorkshire? (Presumably not Elland Road!)

Hehe, I might be a born and bred Yorkshireman, although thanks to my parents both being from the Midlands, I don't have the accent.  But Yorkshire as a whole is just a place of beautiful diversity and contrasts. You have the multi-cultural diversity of the different faiths in the west, the beautiful scenery of the coast in the east and the amazing hillside peaks in the north, and the industrial south, which gives a perfect mix of urban and rural. Also a good bit of Yorkshire Tea can't go a miss either. 

You’re a big fan of James Bond. Which Bond do you identify with most, and why?

My favourite Bond is the one I certainly most identify myself with, Roger Moore. He was very English, quite liked to be a bit posh, and while I'm not quite that, I do like the idea of being it myself. He never took himself seriously in the role, but he had that debonair attitude, which made the role his own. He might not be as rough and action-hardened as Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, but if he did that, it wouldn't be believable, as they tried to do to him when they did The Man With The Golden Gun.

Finally, as a prolific user of emojis - what’s your favourite emoticon?

Hehe, I must say I do blame c4c for my love of emojis, without those emojis on the side when you make posts, I might not have ever used them!! I think my favourite sums up what I like about life, being COOL, so it's this one: 

Thanks James! We'll be back next month with some insight into the mind of Street superstar and irrepressible tournament organiser Marcus Hares!