Saturday 13 October 2012

Vox Ludio: Richard Brittain

Richard Brittain The last Vox Ludio, featuring Innis Carson, received a lot of nice feedback so here's another. The subject of today's interview is the incomparable Richard Brittain, champion of Countdown Series 55 and long-time apterous player. His Countdown career ended with a notorious conundrum guess in 2009's Champion of Champions XIII but he's continued to play on apterous over the years. I really enjoyed this interview and I hope you do too!

Charlie Reams: You were one of apterous' first users after it opened to the public in 2008. What was your initial motivation to start playing? Do you remember your first game?
Richard Brittain: I just looked back at some accounts, and, interestingly, Ecclesiastes Myanmar (a creation of mine) was created on 06/10/2008, and my real account was created on 29/10/2008. So, although I don't remember this, it seems that I first created fictional, silly accounts before a serious one. I seem to recall first creating an account called 'roko roko' (which, apterous says, was created several hours before Ecclesiastes Myanmar).

So, it would, at first glance, seem that my first motivation was to cheat under the guise of an outlandish moniker, using some dodgy anagram solver which probably wasn't even OED. I suppose I didn't feel guilty because I was just testing out a new site and hadn't started 'playing seriously' yet and thus had no responsibilities, and cheated against such figures as Damian Eadie, Keith Bevins and Mikey Lear, who I would later walk to Jerusalem with.

I guess I was also preparing for the CofC. Perhaps I wanted to play anonymously, so that players could not analyse my weaknesses - I can't quite remember. Anyhow, I created my real account before the CofC was recorded, so must have realised that a) I had no chance of winning the CofC so might as well start using my real identity. b) Cheating under spectacular monikers is actually quite boring.

After creating Richard Brittain, I pledged to play seriously and never again cheated. For me, on any game, cheating gives me no satisfaction and would blemish any serious account.

CR: You're known for being one of the most eccentric characters in a community of eccentric characters. Is that something you cultivate or is it a natural part of your personality?
RB: It's difficult to explain. I suppose I am a fairly different person now to the person I was, say, 4 years ago. Comparing the old RB with the new RB would be a little bit like trying to compare the Roman Empire with the Holy Roman Empire - They are similar in name, but not much else. Sometimes I look back on some things I may have said or wrote online, and I think 'Wtf?'. But, I'm pretty sure that most of it was real and not cultivated. However, I probably did play on people's fears and expectations to some extent. It's quite sad really - I think I was eating too much coleslaw (or too little?).

CR: People might not realise that we in fact knew each other as children, since our parents were friends from their school days, although we lost touch when they did. Do you think the seeds of our respective fascinations with Countdown etc were somehow sown in that youthful interaction?
RB: I would like to think so. This is one of those strange-but-true facts. I certainly remember visiting the Reams' house in my youth about once a year. I grew up on the fringes of London, and thus it was exciting to visit a countryside house with a swimming pool. I first thought seriously about applying for Countdown at the age of about 17/18, several years after we had drifted out of touch with the Reamses, and I stumbled upon some images on the web of a Co-meet and saw a figure called Soo Reams, and thought, 'Gosh; that looks like that Charlie Reams fellow'.

CR: You've held all sorts of records in various formats over the years. Which of your achievements are you most personally satisfied with?
RB: For a short while, I dominated the Bullet scene, but then I guess other people figured out how to play Bullet and I became a has-been. However, I was the first to max a Bullet Numbers Attack, and didn't even have too many attempts. Since then, I have sometimes tried to break new records, and will occasionally be seen having an obscene number of attempts against bots, but have not succeeded. This just goes to show that you can't 'brute force' records. They will come to you when they are ready.

CR: And you also hold the record for most maxes in a Greek 15, albeit in an 81-way tie, so that's not to be sniffed at. Are you a fan of non-English play? Are you still learning Hebrew?
RB: Just checked the stats, and I am the 4th best Hebrew player, which is quite satisfying. I learnt some elementary Hebrew while studying Theology at Leuven, Belgium, which was about the third degree I dropped out of (Though, I am now studying History at Greenwich uni, and have made it to the 2nd year). I am only fluent in English, but enjoy playing different language variants on apterous.

CR: You didn't get the call-up for the forthcoming Countdown Champions Event. Did you apply? Were you disappointed not to make it? (Ed's note: I feel I can broach this sensitive subject since I didn't make the cut either!)
RB: Yes, I applied, to which Damian replied 'I thought you were certified insane'. But then he said 'Maybe. Let's see how it pans out'. Recently, I got an email to say I was on the reserve list (with, probably, about 200 other people). Really, though, I wouldn't invite myself back on to Countdown. I disgraced the show with my Gandiseeg appearance, and my presence in the studio could potentially unsettle other participants. From the producer's perspective, it wasn't worth the risk. Although I would have taken it seriously and respected the spirit of the competition, the producers couldn't be sure that I would not spoil their 30th birthday party. I must say, I am surprised by much of the list, and I probably won't watch the competition.

CR: I look back on that with the Gandiseeg episode with a lot of fondness although I'm a bit tired of the joke now. Since you won't be watching, have you moved on to other things? You're rarely seen on apterous nowadays.
RB: True story: I was at a house-warming party recently, and a group of people watched Gandiseeg/Saloneen several times whilst tripping on acid and rolling around in laughter. I'm glad that I have left this fairly unique legacy, but I am bored and slightly embarrassed by this 'joke' now.

I've watched only a handful of Countdown episodes in the last 3 years. I am still up for playing apterous, once I've installed java on this new machine. Recently, I have been watching a lot of historical epics, reading books, playing Civilization 4, walking round London aimlessly and quizzing.

CR: Do you still have that beard?
RB: The beard comes and goes. It's there right now - Charlemagne - but might not be next week - when I'm Julius Caesar again (how/why did people even shave in Roman times?)

CR: Thanks for the interview!

And there you have it. See you for the next edition!

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