Tuesday 15 October 2013

Vox Ludio: Matthew Tassier

Matthew TassierA new Vox Ludio is upon us (at last!), this time administered by Zarte Siempre, who you may remember as the subject of the previous episode. And the subject of today's episode is Matthew Tassier, who many of you will know as the terror of numbers rounds everywhere. Matthew's Glory Roll speaks for itself, but luckily Matthew himself can also speak and in this episode, he does. I must admit that all blame for the tardiness of this belongs to me, since Zarte sent me the text ages ago and I only just got around to posting it. So, apologies, and on we go.

Zarte Siempre: Hi Matthew, how are you?

Matthew Tassier: Hi Zarte, very well thanks.

ZS: Whilst trying to research you a bit to get some good questions to ask, whilst I obviously knew your forte were the numbers, I was amazed to find out how many numbers records you actually seem to hold – where does your numbers proficiency come from?

MT: Numbers just always made a lot more sense to me than the arbitrary grouping of letters into words. Before I went to school I was fascinated by a grandfather clock that my parents had and I learnt to tell the time at a very young age and used to get annoyed if people told me it was ten past three when I could see that it was clearly only 9 minutes past 3. Some people would say I'm pedantic. That's the furthest back I can trace my affinity with numbers and it's continued ever since. Maths was easily my best subject at school and I went on to do a degree in Mathematics and Statistics and have always worked with numbers since.

ZS: Do you get your enjoyment of numbers from being so good at them, or do you get that good at them because you enjoy them?

MT: I guess the being good came first. Watching Countdown while growing up in the 80s I could often beat the contestants in the numbers rounds, but tended to get beaten in the letters. In Apterous letters rounds depend on things like knowledge of high probability words and ability to "spot" words without trying and tedious things like stemming or learning word lists. However, everyone knows about adding, subtraction, multiplication and division so numbers rounds are a pure mental challenge.

ZS: You currently hold the outright record for the ludicrously hard Spoilage Numbers Attack? Is that the record you're proudest of? If not, what is? And do you have your eye on any other records?

MT: Yes, the Spoilage NA record has to be the one I'm proudest to hold as it is clearly the most challenging numbers test on Apterous. However the record is overdue an upping so expect to see me post a new mark before the end of the year. There are other achievements I am proud of like my bullet Aegilops NA max game and especially my Bullet Hyperlock NA max against Rex. However I'm also pleased with improvements in my letters game. It may have taken four years but I have improved from something like 5.5-6 maxes average in 15 rounders to 8.5-9 now which may sound like slow progress but as someone who has never played hundreds of games a month I'm pretty pleased with that.

ZS: Is there any advice you'd give to a player wanting to improve their numbers game (or indeed any aspect of their game in general)?

MT: I think the best way to improve is simply to play the game, preferably against a human opponent, and observe what your opponent beats you with. If it's a word you're not aware of then I'd look up its definition and find out more about it as this really helps cement it in your memory. In terms of numbers rounds once again practice makes perfect, but there are other things to consider. For instance I think I've recently improved my use of the 30s, not getting bogged down in a method that I can't quite make work. Also don't waste the time while the numbers are coming out on a 6 small or 1 large round. I usually multiply the three largest small numbers together before I see the target as that may lead you to a solution that you're unlikely otherwise to find in the 30 seconds. One more thing to think about is the balance between what I call constructive and deconstructive methods. Deconstructive methods are where you start by taking apart the target (e.g. factorisation) whilst constructive methods are ones where you work with the numbers you are given, try to get closeish and then adjust your method. I think I use the constructive approach a lot more than many of the top numbers players which lends itself well to some of the more complicated variants like spoilage or hypernasty numbers.

ZS: Unless you have a cunning pseudonym, you appear to be one of the better players never to have appeared on the show. Why is that? And do you have any plans to enter in the future?

MT: I don't use a pseudonym, but interestingly I am a Southampton fan, having grown up near there and Matthew Le Tissier is my favourite Saints player of all time. I've always played apterous because I enjoy the game rather than as a stepping stone towards going on Countdown and performing well. I am a big Countdown fan and watch every episode, though often a few weeks late ... I'm really looking forward to you appearing in a couple of days. (Ed's note: This has now happened. [Spoilers]) The thought of applying to appear on Countdown is both exciting and scary, I'm not convinced I want to watch myself on television and see myself how others see me. Having said that I will probably apply at some stage, when it's a convenient time in my life and I'm sure I'd end up enjoying it if I did get on.

ZS: What's your attitude to the game in general? Are you overly competitive and looking for world domination? Or do you just like to unwind by sadistically bamboozling people with 6 small numbers?

MT: I am a very competitive person and will always give 100% to win the current game I am playing. But it is important to me to enjoy playing, win or lose. I don't think those two things are mutually exclusive and being able to balance them is the key to getting the most out of apterous I think. And of course I enjoy outwitting people at 6 small, particularly if they've just crushed me with 9 letter words.

ZS: What else [if anything] would you like the world to know about Matthew Tassier?

MT: Nothing, I've told you too much already. One day I'll probably turn up at one of these CO events, you can ask me more then!

ZS: And finally, from playing you, I've always got the impression that you enjoy a glass of wine – have you got any particular recommendations?

MT: A glass of red wine and a game of apterous is certainly a good way to wind down at the end of the day, but I'm no wine buff. I like a nice Chianti for instance, but to me most wines taste pretty similar. I can however recommend avoiding Turkish white wine. When I heard it compared to camel's urine I felt the comparison was rather unfair on the camels. To be fair on Turkey this was one particular bottle and I probably made a really bad decision to choose it. Really I'm more of an ale man, so my recommendations would be to try any strong dark ("brune") Belgian beer (you can't go wrong) or if you are in a pub this winter look out for Downton's Chocolate Orange Delight. It really shouldn't work but a pint is delightful.

Ah, so you're the other guy that likes Chocolate Orange Delight! I knew there had to be someone. Thanks for your time, Matthew, and for your patience, Zarte. See you for the next one!

Monday 1 July 2013

Vox Ludio: Zarte Siempre

Zarte SiempreThe more astute amongst you will have noticed that I've failed to meet the one-a-month target for Vox Ludios for the last few months, mainly thanks to being busy with real life and making the actual game (mea culpa!). So to speed things along and provide a fresh perspective, this month's interview was administered by the much timelier Jen Steadman, who you may remember from the previous episode. She spoke to Zarte Siempre, king of aptochat banter and all-round top dude. Here it is!

Jen Steadman: You're one of the newest players in the top 50. How did you find Apterous, and what got you hooked?

Zarte Siempre: I found Apterous at a difficult period — I'd just broken up with my partner, I was still coming to terms with the circumstances that put me in a wheelchair and work had dried up. My thought process was "I really need to do something at least vaguely productive, to keep my brain in gear". I remembered my love of Countdown as a kid and thought "There HAS to be an online version somewhere" and went hunting. Lo and behold I found Apterous and have been playing since. As to what got me hooked, with the question saying "top 50" that implies it's about the gameplay, and it's really not for me. I've always been addicted to people, I just get through them quite quickly as most bore/irritate me. But within the community, despite my character often being a polar opposite to others on the site, there's never a sense that that's an issue – in fact, the opposite. Apterous welcomes diversity and for as long as it does, so will I, and as a result stay "hooked" (I feel like that's terrible English – but I hope it does the job). I think the fact that most of you put up with my piss-taking, acerbic, eternally grouchy self helps too!

JS: I understand you've recently filmed for the show - without spoilering, how did you find the experience?

ZS: I found it incredibly easy to adjust to. I told myself the night before, that whatever happened, I was going to take it one game at a time, and enjoy it. I think I was nervous for about the first 5 rounds, and then it just all evaporated away. All you have to do is what you do every time you log on online – just focus, and think about just that one thing. I'd really advise more people to have a go, because the lights, the music, the people – none of it affects you once you're in the zone. If it had affected me though – I'd just have got pissed... I mean considering my best ever co:event was Lincoln and I played that almost entirely half-cut, there might be something to be said for it...

JS: People have arguably become more serious about Apterous as the standard has increased - how seriously do you take your rating, gameplay and suchlike?

ZS: I think the fact I openly admit to playing while not at my soberest says a lot for how seriously I take it! Sure, I get frustrated with myself if I have a bad game – but that's it – I get frustrated with myself. I think there's a serious point to be made about people taking it too seriously. There's several people who I'm on about a par with who chew themselves up every time they miss a single word, and who've played double the games I have. People don't realise I've not even played 4,000 games yet – I come on to have fun, and if I don't have fun – I don't learn from the mistakes I've made and it clearly works. And I refuse to believe that that's SOLELY me. There's become an increasing culture of public self-flagellation AND self-congratulation in the 18 months I've been on the site and it's the only thing that tarnishes it for me. We have a wonderful community with some wonderful, interesting people – don't make a mockery of that by getting irate in a chat room when you've "only" got 13 maxes. It's meant to be fun! No-one's going to change the world sitting behind a laptop screen re-arranging letters, and no-one outside of a few other people doing the same thing gives a damn how good you are at it. So let's just chill and have some laughs. I like to think that I try to keep the mood light, and I hope other people would agree (and maybe even appreciate it on occasion!)

JS: You were the first person to get a max game in the new 15 rounder format. Have you got your eye on any other Apto firsts or goals?

ZS: Put simply... no. It's impossible to have your eye on firsts really, because most of them are either impossible to someone who is as non-versatile as I am, or things I could do, have already been done. And those that come up in the future, I don't know what they'll be, and so it's pointless trying. I always said that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I'd like to be remembered for SOMETHING by every social sector of my life, and I think being the first ever person to max the new 15, would ensure that. That's more than enough for me. I'll leave the record-breaking to those who are better at it!

JS: Two current tournaments - the Apto-tude League and The Mole: Apterous Style - are being run by you. What do you enjoy about running tournaments?

ZS: I don't think there's something that I specifically enjoy about hosting tournaments – it's more things I enjoy about each tournament I host. Apto-tude is something that didn't exist before I committed to it – it's a test that never ends for anyone. The top players always have to be at their best, or they risk slipping down the ladder. The players down the bottom, have something to aim for and can set themselves achievable targets. And on top of that, everyone is always playing for something. In a knockout, you can draw one of the top 5 and be out in R1 – with this, every time, you're trying to take the next step. I love watching the tables unfold when someone surprises themselves by coming from the back, or when one of the big names has a bad day and suddenly finds themselves having to save themselves. It's like watching the football season – there's ALWAYS a story if you look hard enough.

With regards to The Mole, I'm a completely sadistic bastard, and watching the players wander around cluelessly trying to work out what's going on pleases me greatly. In all seriousness though, it's been great to provide a challenge that can be classed as apterous-related, and yet take people away from pure gameplay. I'm hoping that there will be several of them, because I think people might get more into the back-stabbing and double-dealing that the game requires, once they find out what players who know the game have been up to in this one (Hopefully this interview will also put the cat amongst the pigeons!)

JS: Outside of Apterous, you're a keen cook. What are your favourite recipes? Are there any types of cuisine you specialise in?

ZS: Yes, the kitchen is my safe place really. I've been at my lowest, practically rocking in a corner, singing sea shanties while wearing a tutu, but you give me a knife and I won't start mutilating my environment, I'll just knock up a remoulade (I felt a 9 letter word had to finish that sentence). My cooking style is mostly pan-Asian, but I also like fusion food, or food that twists the ideas of what a classic dish is. An example of the former would be a thai inspired sea-bass salad – with the fish flaked through rice noodles, with lots of chilli, lime, ginger and pickled vegetables and finished with fish floss (Crisped up fish skin which you then breakdown into a thick crumb – almost like pork scratchings). An example of the more fusion-side would be my curried beetroot risotto, finished with ricotta, and sometimes served with seafood, but it doesn't really need it. My favourite dish I've ever invented was scallops with a cumin and pea puree, a balsamic vinegar caramel dressing, parmesan crisps and finished with a few rocket leaves and some chorizo oil. My more out-there ideas... savoury ice-creams. Piping hot goats cheese and spinach filo tartlets with a caramelised red onion ice-cream. And I'll give you a dessert to finish off – jelly, cake and ice-cream Zarte style. Cardamom and pistachio cake, saffron ice-cream and a kaffir lime and ginger beer jelly. And if you think this all makes me sound pretentious well you can go... be right... I guess it is quite pretentious...

JS: Last but not least, what's your favourite flavour of crisps?

ZS: Ah, I do love crisps. If it's a bog-standard multipack, then I'll always go after the Salt and Vinegar, but my absolute favourite is probably smoked chilli and goats cheese – they're not cheap, but fuck me, I can eat them by the lorryload. Also – mix together tzatziki and lemon curd and dip salt and vinegar Pringles in... it's completely heathenish but delicious.

Thanks, Jen and Zarte! More episodes more often in the future, hopefully! And as always, please do follow us on Google+!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Vox Ludio: Jen Steadman

Jen SteadmanWelcome to our fourth Vox Ludio, starring apterous celebrity Jen Steadman. Jen joined in June 2011 and has since run up a long list of apterous accomplishments, perhaps culminating in her excellent recent top spot in Game of the Week. And she's kindly agreed to speak to us here. Here goes!

Charlie Reams: So, first things first. How did you come to find the site, and how were your earliest experiences of it?

Jen Steadman: I became a bit obsessed with Countdown during a pretty crap first year at uni, and I'm ashamed to admit I found Apterous as an indirect result of stalking an attractive contestant on the wiki. (Naming no names.) One thing led to another, and I soon found myself a fully paid up Apterite. Had it not been for the subscription, I might have quit in the first week or so as a result of being, well, not very good at anagramming - fortunately my tightwad student tendencies convinced me to carry on playing to get the most value for my money, and I'm glad I did. Once I discovered variants (especially Unlimited) and chatting to other players, I became increasingly addicted to the site. Fortunately I've kicked the Unlimited addiction now - you really can only type 'SENSELESSNESSES' so many times...

Charlie Reams: You're one of the top-rated players yet to appear on the show. Any plans on that front? Is there a specific point at which you'd consider going on?

Jen Steadman: I've always maintained that I won't go on until I graduate - I'm not the most hard-working student as it is, so the incentive to play more Apterous rather than less would be disastrous on my degree! Graduation's only a few months away now though, so I'll be applying soon hopefully.

Charlie Reams: It's perhaps beside the point to mention you as apterous' top-rated female player when you're one of the top-rated players full stop. Nevertheless, do you feel any special responsibility as trailblazer for the ladies' team?

Jen Steadman: The lack of female representation both in the top 50 of Pro Ranks and in terms of series winners (the last time a woman won a series was in 1998) is what inspired me to get better. Well, sort of. I had a vague plan about being the top-rated female player about this time last year and mentioned it to Mark Deeks, who I'd become good friends with following the discovery that he'd been to see my slightly obscure football club (Tonbridge Angels) play before. He not only encouraged me to believe that I could be the best female player, but also taught me about stemming and split multiplication, as well as teaching me a load of useful words. Without a combination of that and being inspired to end the male domination of Pro Ranks/prove those who doubted female ability at the game wrong, I doubt I'd have improved so much. I'm pretty territorial about being #1 female, though. I do want there to be more women in the top 50, but not at my expense!

Charlie Reams: You're running a well-received sweepstake for the 30th Birthday Championship. Who's your tip for the title? (Ed's note: This interview was conducted before the tournament began, honest!)

Jen Steadman: It's hard to look past Innis or Conor really, although Innis in particular has a horrendous draw. Jack Worsley was my 'dark horse' tip, but with the Predictor putting him 5th favourite he's not much of a dark horse any more... What makes it exciting is the fact that it could go any way - people seem to have automatically written off the non-Apterites, but there could be a few surprises. It's hard to say when so many of the contestants are unknown quantities.

Charlie Reams: What are your personal objectives, apterous-wise?

Jen Steadman: Top of the list is breaking into the top 25 of Pro Ranks (when was the last time there was female representation in the top 25?!) - easier said than done when the standard is so high right now. Other than that, completing all Ascension cycles, learning how not to suck at 6 small and, more ambitiously, maxing a Letters Attack would be nice achievements. Maintaining a healthy level of perspective about it all is also an important one, though some would probably argue I don't have one...!

Charlie Reams: There seems to be a broad spectrum between people who turn up exclusively to play and people who largely hang out in chat. Where do you stand on the social side of things?

Jen Steadman: Without the social side, I doubt I'd have stuck around so long. For one thing, it keeps me sane at uni as I'm on a tiny campus in the middle of nowhere, which means I don't get out much. But I just love the Apterous community in general, be it for making 'top 5 most doable Apterite' lists in chat at obscene hours of the night, being rowdy and obnoxious in the back row of the Countdown audience, or the chaos and debauchery (/stemming and drinking) of Co events. Main chat intimidated me when I first joined, and I imagine others may feel the same. But you miss out on so much by not getting involved with the socialising. If not for Apterous, I wouldn't have a membership card for a Mancunian casino and wouldn't have ended up dressed like a slapper at an Alan Partridge party in Cardiff, which are both experiences that have enriched my life and come in useful for anecdotal purposes. Plus the friendships I've made on the site mean that even if I do badly on the show, my 30 days of in-game time (eek) won't have been wasted. Incidentally, don't bother going to the Mancunian casino if you're just looking for somewhere to drink post-1am - it's £4.20 for a Bulmers. You might as well put a few fivers in a blender and drink that instead.

Charlie Reams: What games do you play outside of apterous? Are you into Scrabble or other word games?

Jen Steadman: I like Scrabble, although like many Apterites am a bit dubious of the dictionary (OUTPASSION?!). Unfortunately my friends and family point-blank refuse to play me, and I'm not good enough at it to give a serious player a decent game. Tetris is my all-time favourite game, though. As with Apterous, I prefer speed variants of it to endurance ones. I hate to think how many hours of my life I've spent trying to break my 40 lines high score on both my Gameboy and Facebook...

Charlie Reams: Would you rather beat Innis Carson or Apterous Rex?

Jen Steadman: Probably Rex. I always feel weirdly guilty when I beat the top players, unless the player's a massive douche - which, unless he hides it very well, Innis isn't. And even if he is, he doesn't get all arrogant in chat afterwards like Rex does. There's nothing more satisfying than beating a bad winner.

Charlie Reams: And finally, but most importantly, what's your favourite cocktail?

Jen Steadman: There used to be a bar in Falmouth that served a cocktail called a Cookie Monster, which was a lovely shade of blue and involved sugar, cinnamon and lemon (which makes it sound like posh tea with food colouring in). The bar staff would set it on fire and then you'd drink it as soon as the fire went out. Unfortunately that bar's closed down since the owners left in dubious circumstances, so I'm not sure I'll ever have one again. Just as well I prefer cider, really.

Thanks Jen! More Vox Ludio next month, maybe. And don't forget to follow us on Google+!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

How ticket ideas get plucked into reality

Lately I've had a handful of people asking me questions along the lines of "When will such and such a feature be implemented?". These are perfectly reasonable questions, if not also so politely phrased. So rather than answer these recurring queries individually, I thought I'd write a blog post about it and try to demystify the process a bit.

The first thing to recap is that apterous is almost entirely the work of just one person, which is to say, me. The lovely Matt Morrison deals with people's avatar photos, and everything else is me. That means I'm simultaneously the designer, programmer, webmaster, database admin, test engineer, customer service operative, pixel artist, and various other things besides. Some of those things I'm quite good at; others are more of a struggle. So, perhaps not surprisingly, apterous takes up pretty much all of my free time. I'm passionate about this site and I love working on it, so I don't say this in search of any sympathy, but you should understand that the skeleton staff is the reason we can charge £20 a year and not £20 a month. And I really am going as fast as I can.

The amount of stuff that can get done is therefore essentially limited by how fast I can work on it. And the list of tickets grows faster than I can attend to it. Which is great! It's awesome to be able to focus my efforts on just the best ideas which will make the most people happy. But it does mean that some ideas will lose out, and some will take a long time to happen.

It also means that's it quite hard to for me to predict when I'll get around to a given idea. The overall order of precedence is generally: bugs first, then performance issues, then feature requests. In practice it's a lot more liquid than that because some bugs are just not that important, and some feature requests are quite urgent. There are also certain types of ticket that tend to get de-prioritised. The most common example is variant ideas, for a couple of reasons: first, the number of variants needs to be kept under control, in order to keep the game usable; second, people need time to enjoy the existing variants before a new one comes in; third, variants are quite easy to come up with and a lot of work for me to build, so the incoming flow of ideas will always greatly exceed the outgoing flow of implementations. But broadly speaking that's how I allocate my time.

Within that basic order of precedence, I generally work through the list of tickets in approximately votes × time order. This is a refinement of the obvious "most votes" order, in which we imagine that people are not limited to voting for each ticket once, but rather can vote again every day, and continue to vote every day in the same way that they voted the first time. So, for example, if a ticket had one up-vote 100 days ago, and one down-vote 30 days ago, it would have a net score of +70. This means that popular ideas will bubble to the top very quickly, while any ticket with a positive net score will eventually amble its way to the top, so even niche ideas eventually get their day in the sun. (We also do various other Bayesian things but that's a discussion for another day.) So to give your favoured ideas the best chance of getting implemented: vote early, vote often!

Beyond that, various other considerations come into play, such as: how much work it would actually take to do something (easy crowd-pleasers are great!), whether I have any good idea of how to execute the idea, and what I feel like working on at the time. It's quite unpredictable. That's part of the fun.

So, to answer the original question head-on: I don't know when or even if your idea will happen. But most likely, as soon as I can!

PS: Don't forget, you can now follow apterous on Google+! There's a bunch of stuff there that doesn't appear anywhere else.

Monday 21 January 2013

Brief maintenance today

We're having some electrical work done at Apterous Towers, so the game might be briefly unavailable. Don't panic!

Friday 4 January 2013

Vox Ludio: Jim Bentley

Jim Bentley It's that time again! This time around we're chatting with the delightful Jim Bentley, apterous and C4Countdown stalwart and Series 50 semi-finalist. Jim appeared on Countdown in 2003, becoming an octochamp with a robust 756-point total. He returned for a quarter final with Adam Laws, and the two players were neck and neck going into the conundrum. Laws buzzed in first for the narrowest of victories, marking a gripping end to Jim's run. Since then, Jim has been ever-present voice in the online Countdown community, and was one of apterous' earliest users. Over to the interview.

Charlie Reams: You're still involved with apterous and online Countdown in general nearly a decade after you appeared on TV. What keeps you coming back to the community as a whole?
Jim Bentley: Over the years, my reasons have probably shifted quite a bit. Early on, it was to keep up with events on the TV show, but as the community developed, it's become less and less about the show and more and more about the people. Countdown seems to attract clever people who have interesting and funny things to say, and who wouldn't want to associate with such people? That's definitely the reason I've stuck with the various forums over the years, even after I stopped watching the TV show regularly. But the main reason now is apterous, as it provides a perfect platform to combine two things I enjoy doing: playing the game and talking rubbish to people on the internet.

CR: You were one of apterous' first players and you've played over 10,000 games. Can you pick out a favourite word from all that? Offered by you or against you, actually.
JB: I do remember being pleased to get BLOWFLIES because I'm not good at seeing nines or compound words. And also because it sounds cool, like an early 1970s blaxploitation film with a soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. I'm always impressed when someone beats me with a word that I've never heard of, but also when I'm beaten by an everyday word that I've just not spotted. Both these things still happen frequently, but no specific words really stand out, I'm afraid. Oh, except JUXTAGLOMERULAR in Aegilops, that was quite a good one.

CR: You're probably the only player in the "10,000 club" who is still quite casual about the game. Are you ever tempted to take it more seriously or are you happy in your relaxed state?
JB: It's true, for somebody who's played so many games, I should probably have improved a bit more. But then, I'm very slapdash, I still see letters that aren't there and I still go for plenty of words that I'm not sure of at all. I have no concentration and get distracted by all sorts of things – plenty of times in numbers rounds I'll glance up at something on the TV or whatever and in doing so, completely forget what I'm trying to do with the numbers, even if I'm halfway through a method. I'm quite good at recalling words, but they're just as likely to be valid words in the dictionary as they are to be brands of Hungarian toilet cleaner or something I've seen written on a road sign. It sounds perverse, but I actually quite like all that uncertainty, it makes things more exciting.

I realise I probably could improve if I put a bit of effort into learning words and it's something I did consider a few years ago, but that's as far as it went. For a start, the idea of rote-learning words has about as much appeal as a midnight swimming lesson with Michael Barrymore, plus I'm not even convinced that the information would go in - I think my memory's still pretty OK, but I probably don't remember things as easily as I did twenty years ago. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Or maybe I think learning words would take the fun out of the game. Or maybe…I've run out of excuses.

The other thing is that standard games are only really a small part of apterous, I definitely play more non-standard stuff now. One of the most impressive things – and there are many – about apterous is the range of games and formats on offer, and there aren't many that I don't enjoy. So I suppose that as more and more formats have emerged, I've spent less and less time on the standard format, and perhaps this has contributed to me being a bit rubbish at it. Another excuse!

To be serious though, to get to the standard of the uber-players, it seems that you need near-perfect word knowledge and near-perfect anagramming abilities; I don't think that I have the necessary inclination or brainpower to achieve either, so I'm happy enough to flatline.

CR: Talking of casual play, how often do you play drunk? I've heard rumours...
JB: To be honest, it's very rare for me to play apterous having not had a drink, but that's because I generally have a drink most evenings and I don't get chance to play apterous until then. So you could say that it's more unusual for me to be playing completely sober. But I don't really get drunk very much any more, probably the only two days in the last couple of years that I've been properly drunk were the last two COLIN Saturday nights. That said, I've definitely played games on apterous where I've been a couple of steps beyond "merry", but I can't recall an occasion where I've been inebriated enough for it to make any appreciable difference to my game. Although, to be fair, there may well have been innumerable occasions and I just can't remember any of them due to being shitfaced.

CR: You do have some very non-casual accomplishments, including one of longest standing untied records in the history of apterous, which is more than just a matter of endurance. Talking of which, you famously fell asleep in the final hour of the Endurance Event and missed the decisive duel. How did that happen?!
JB: Haha yeah, the Endurance Event was fun. I'd like to claim that it was a deliberately contrary act – like an art statement – to do the first 23 then deliberately not do the last one. But it wasn't, I'd been up for about 40 hours and I must've just lost concentration, or got too comfortable and fallen asleep. Maybe it's a sign of age, as I occasionally stayed awake across two nights as a student (whereas the Endurance Event was only one) but then of course I did take a lot more drugs back then. I remember feeling pretty stupid at the time, but now it's just funny. It's like a really typical sort of thing that I would do.

CR: You're also known as the musical talent behind the techno band Fahnn. Do you ever listen to your own music while you play? Does it affect your performance?
JB: I do almost always have music on while I'm playing apterous, but it's very rarely any of my own stuff. Fahnn wouldn't be a good choice, it's too distracting. The original intention of Fahnn was to make music that was too unpleasant to listen to, but that went a bit awry as some of the tracks ended up having a conventional melody (sort of). Generally most of it is too abrasive to make it useful as any sort of soundtrack, though. It would be like trying to play at the bottom of a very deep hole alongside a group of malfunctioning robots having violent cyber-sex with a pile of rusting farm machinery.

Some of the stuff I've done since Fahnn can be good, though – I think anything long and repetitive and relatively mellow is good for apterous. And I think generally upbeat is better than downbeat and it's probably better if it's not too wordy. But maybe different formats would suit different types of music, possibly I should be listening to more happy hardcore to truly reach my best at Octolock Numbers Attack, I don't know. I hope not. I can't believe I haven't thought more about this until now, though, it could be a whole new exciting area of study.

CR: What's your favourite soup?
JB: I love all soups, even the unpopular ones like mulligatawny and lentil. Probably my favourite is leek and potato, but it has to be home made, all the tinned leek and potato soups are too gloopy and unpleasant (actually the Baxters one is OK, but nothing like as good as one I can make myself, and I'm a rubbish cook). Home made tomato soup is also in a different league to the tinned ones. But hey, I'm not a soup snob, tinned soup has its place, especially if you're pressed for time. I quite like a Heinz beef and vegetable or chicken and vegetable, they do those ones quite well, but of course you're straying towards the area of stew with these. Is a stew still a soup? Where is the line drawn? It's certainly a troubling issue.

Thanks Jim! More Vox Ludio soon.