The race to 1000

Couple of housekeeping measures before I begin – late last night I made a change that has no bearing over the actual results or standings of the competition but that I wanted to make for a while – where everything else is equal (score, number of correct guesses, highest scoring best guess etc) the current standings table now ranks players in the order they joined the competition this year. Previously it used a random and mildly nerdy method that is far to silly to explain. I’m happier now. I’ll reiterate that if all the other things are equal then the players are fully and unbreakably tied, and this is shown as such in the table!

If you head over to the stats page then you’ll see the all-time scores table in all it’s massive glory. Atop it sits Simon Rutter, who has been at the top of that table for fifteen straight years now. He is on 880, with Mark Coughlan 92 points behind in second (where he has sat for fourteen years himself), Antony Brown a further 47 back in third (no mean feat for a player who started four years after the others at the top) and Ross Turnbull is fourth, 18 points adrift of the top three. I highlight these players because all four could, in theory, hit a thousand if they play well this year!

Admittedly for Mark, Antony and Ross they’d require suspiciously high scores (212, 259 and 277 out of the maximum 300 respectively) but Simon is definitely within striking distance – 120 away is doable, last year’s victor scored 135 and Simon himself has a PB of 88 which isn’t too far away. I’m excited – this milestone is one that was never contemplated when this all started. I suppose, realistically, I shouldn’t get too excited. Simon averages 55 points per appearance so it’s statistically unlikely this year, or even next. But with a good performance, it could be this year. I’d love it to be. I might even make a first player to 1000 certificate (remember when I used to make certificates? I should start doing that again) to commemorate the occasion.

Please Simon, do well. It’d be epic!

Tomorrow

It all kicks off tomorrow, so any players who still haven’t submitted their first guess should get it in quickly!

On that… Another feature of the old 24-23-…-2-1 scoring system was that there was an incentive to play from the start. Flipping it had the unwanted side effect of allowing someone to drop in with only five days to go and win it. This seemed unfair on those who had been in from the start and for me detracted from the feel of the competition a bit. The list based guess format helped a bit but I haven’t been happy with the situation since it began. For one season only players starting late had their points scoring offset by their delay – so a player that started on day 10 and then scored on day 16 would receive only six points rather than sixteen, for example. This ended up being quite confusing (as I remember it on one day three people with three different starts scored) and so was scrapped, possibly in the middle of the same season.

For this year, should it be needed, and again on a trial basis, players starting late are deducted the relevant number of points from their total – so the player who joins after window 10 has been opened will start on -10. I like, and want players to start at the start, and hopefully this change should encourage that!

The rules and website have been updated accordingly. Good luck everyone, and get your guesses in!

Teams Scoring Changes

Before I get into what has changed about the scoring in the team’s championship, let me confess that there was very very nearly a change in the individual scoring too. I have long been of the opinion that scoring 24 points on the final day when there is only one item left to choose from is just silly. Scoring actually used to be the other way around, the (to me) sensible way around of 24 points on Day 1 all the way down to 1 point on Christmas Eve. It was changed after significant peer pressure because in the few years it ran that way, the title was wrapped up early and the rest of the competition had the “dead rubber” feel you sometimes get in proper sports when this happens.

Thing is, it has never sat well with me. I’m of the opinion that the harder to achieve achievement (that is guessing correctly on a 1 in 24 chance rather than a 1 in 1) should be rewarded more. I will do a further post about all this another time, but don’t be surprised if I flip it back to how I feel it should be one of these years. Your thoughts, players, are welcome as always!

So onto the team’s championship, where this year (2020) Leo are looking to defend their title and make it six wins in eight years. Credit to the Leonians for dominating so much, they have some heavyweights on their team and have clearly earned their results. It’s a sad side effect of the changes I have made then that they’d have actually finished fourth last year under the new scoring system. My beef with the old system is that we had uneven teams. Leo’s success is accreditable to that – they have had the most players at least half the time in their dominant spell, or one short of most the other times. 2013 was the last time they were significantly short – they won that year despite being three players lighter than their closest rival.

The dilemma of sorting this seems easily fixable by saying only the top x players for each side score, but I didn’t like that so much as that’s not really a team’s championship towards which every player contributes. Instead I’ve come up with a slightly contrived system and it works as follows. For each team, their best player contributes their whole score, their second best player contributes half their score, their third best contributes a third of their score, and so on. The teams with the best players still get the big points that they’ve earned, but for teams with lots of additional players these additional players contribute less and less – but crucially they still contribute. Fractions are always rounded up so every player who scores always contributes at least one point.

There are flaws with this, I’m aware, but I like how it creates a competition that still rewards teams with big scorers, I like how everyone is still in play for their team no matter how low their score (unless, you know, it’s zero), and I like how as teams get larger their capacity to run away with it is limited.

I will, given time, go through the team’s championship for every year and see how it would have changed under this system but for now here is what last year would have looked like:

Leo’s 2 point victory over Taurus becomes a 1 point victory for Aries. Aries had only four players compared to Leo’s seven and Taurus’s six, but with three of those in the top eight this feels like Aries have been rewarded properly for having strong players rather than many players. Over half of Leo players finished in the bottom half but the combined points haul of these “extra” players were what won it for them. Alas, what the new system cannot do is give a leg up to teams with only one or two players – Capricorn, Sagittarius and Scorpio had only single players last year and they remain down the bottom – but then if you only bring one player to a team championship I can deal with the resultant struggle. I think the new system strikes a decent, if imperfect balance. It’s worth pointing out that had Hakan, our champion last year, been representing a team all on his own that team would have finished in the top half!

As usual with such a fundamental change, we can consider this one “on trial” for this year. I’ll see how it pans out and try a different tweak next year, or even just revert it, if that seems best. But for this year, the new system is in. Good luck everyone, especially Gemini!

2020 launch

Around now I have normally sent all the players their details for this year and am starting to see guesses trickle in but this year real life has prevented me from doing this so far. I will definitely have them out by the end of the day tomorrow though so if you played last year expect to hear from me by then! If you didn’t play last year and want to, get in touch now!

As a small preview, here are the items the calendar threw out this year, in alphabetical order. Those so inclined can start planning their strategies now!

5 days to go
angel
bauble
bell
cracker
donkey
elf
gift
gingerbread man
holly
penguin
pudding
reindeer
robin
santa
sleigh
snowflake
snowman
star
stocking
teddy
tree
wreath

I’ll be in touch very soon. Looking forward to this year!

An idea for 2020

I was pondering the calendar for this year as I drove along at work the other day and the implications “the current situation” might have on my ability to even shop. Before I even get to the obvious solutions (mail order, usual online grocery shop, etc) I let my mind wander into the idea I’m about to present and before I decide just to go with another regular calendar I wanted to float it and hear some feedback.

The calendar choice is getting ever more stressful, as I anticipate that the template that any major (or even less major) Advent Calendar manufacturer uses is unchanged year-to-year and in any event I’d have to pay to find out. The result is I try to find obscure, often foreign, suppliers, and then save the calendar for a year or two so that if a design is changed, it’ll work in my favour. I do actually have a calendar from a previous year but it came from a retail chain and having wandered through said chain again, I see the exact same design (on the front at least) is on sale again. Anxiety heightened…

My mind wandering fixed not only the unnecessary shopping problem but would absolutely stop anyone from being able to buy the calendar – because I would be making it myself. My proposal is that for 2020 I manufacture the Advent Calendar myself, and in a bid to totally set it apart from the calendars previously seen I would hide 24 Christmas Films behind the doors. I would arrange them in the order I would watch them in a hypothetical world where I had to watch these 24 films in the lead up to Christmas and I could only watch one per day.

I can think of pros and cons myself but I am keen to hear from potential players about what they think – the question “would this put you off playing this year” being one I’m especially keen to hear about. Leave comments here or on Facebook or Twitter, please!

2019 review, and a small confession

Comments scattered across various social medias implied we had a very random calendar this year but despite this, a huge congratulations to two-time former winner Andrew Chilcraft who broke the World Record score for the Advent Calendar Challenge – and to Håkan Wolgé, who broke it by more! It was Håkan’s first win in the challenge, having previously had a best finish of sixth back in 2018.

In the team’s championship, Leo stormed to their fifth victory in seven years. They had more players, which of course helps, but a superb effort all round Leos! I might be tempted to try and even out the effects of uneven teams going forward, but it’s way down the list of priorities!

So to my mini confession. I’m happy to class the source of this year’s calendar as an Advent Calendar, but to describe it as a thing with doors is a stretch. Two years ago the NSPCC Christmas lights on Oxford Street in London looked like this:

Doors 1-6 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 1-6 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 7-12 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 7-12 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 13-18 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 13-18 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 19-24 of this year's advent calendar
Doors 19-24 of this year's advent calendar

I get constantly nervous that one year the challenge will be ruined by someone having the same calendar I am using, so have over the year employed various tactics to try and prevent it – foreign calendars, using old calendars. This is the first time I used a giant calendar suspended high above a famous London street from history! I hope I am forgiven for such subterfuge!

Happy Christmas to everyone, and wishing you all a prosperous 2020. See you next November for the 2020 running of the ACC 🙂

Last quarter

We are now three-quarters of the way through this year’s Advent Calendar Challenge – yet again we have Santa appearing for the first time before day 24. A quick glance reveals that 2014 was the last time Santa made it’s first appearance on Christmas Eve. The downside is no-one scored today, but that was kinda predictable! I didn’t make the calendar so it’s obviously out of my control!

A quick note on the matters raised in the previous post. On dummy/red-herring answers, I will think about this before the 2020 challenge further, maybe with some thinking-out-loud analysis: watch this space! On the other matter, on whether to hide guesses after day 18 or not, I have a compromise. The compromise was partially inspired when I was asked by a competitor privately if I would hide guesses or not. I replied I intended to leave things as they were (i.e. hidden after window 18) and that I would make the announcement in this blog post today. The competitor pointed out that I had just given them a possible advantage in that they could now take a copy of everyone’s guesses, knowing what was about to come. It got me thinking – whilst it’s a slight advantage only because everyone could take such a copy at any time, there’s a half-way approach between the two I asked you to choose between in the last post, and it is that approach that I have settled on.

So from now on*, guesses made after the opening of window 18 will be hidden. Guesses made before that point will not be. Trial basis, and we’ll see how it goes.

Six days left. Good luck everyone!

-* it’s not been implemented properly – the official rules pdf is pending update, and the censorship still applies on individual profile pages. Those will be fixed tomorrow!

History of guessing

At the end of this post, having stream-of-consciousness-style rambled about things for a few paragraphs, I’m going to invite readers to maybe prevent me making a rule change that I might regret, so do read on!

Long term players will remember how it used to be, of course, when it comes to guessing. Newer players might only know the way it is now. As I type, in 2019, players make their guess from a list of items that contains only those things that actually appear in the calendar. It has been this way for a few years, having evolved – the first time a list appeared was in 2013 and that contained 36 items, i.e. anything up to twelve (I can’t remember exactly how many) red herrings. This was decreased to 30 items (i.e. up to six red herrings) the next year, and then down to the current zero red herrings system in 2015. It has been that way ever since, and I am, broadly speaking, a fan. One stage I would like to take it to, and might well do for next year, is to include a single red herring – this would give everyone a choice to make on day 24; I think it is possibly a weakness of the system that anyone paying attention can gain themselves 24 points on the final day. That said, to do this might not be compatible with the next thing I’d like to turn my attention to, and this is the main point of this post.

Currently guesses are hidden from everyone – including the players that made them – after the 18th day. I reasoned that it didn’t matter if you didn’t know your own guess, as you could simply assess what you’d want it to be and submit it again. The reason the guesses were hidden in the first place was to prevent a situation where a player could secure a victory simply by matching the guess of the players behind them in the table rather than guessing “properly”. In the current days where everyone normally ends up on the same guess by the end anyway this is probably rather redundant, and in any case, if you have established a lead then maybe this could be seen as a reward for doing so? In any event it’s unlikely just one player (especially on the current scoring system) will be close behind and you can’t neutralise the guess of more than one player at once anyway…

So I guess I am giving provisional notice of two changes: (1) to be implemented this year: I am proposing that guesses are no longer hidden after day 18 as I assess that it is largely redundant to do so, and (2) to be implemented from 2020 onwards: to add one dummy item to the selection list to give players a choice to make on day 24.

There are surely side-effects to these choices that I haven’t thought through, so please leave comments (either for or against) if you have an opinion on the above. Much appreciated, thank you!

2019 windows

As stated in my previous post, I’m in a position to reveal what is behind the windows this year – just not which windows these items appear behind! In alphabetical order:

  •  bauble
  • bell
  • candy cane
  • carrot
  • christmas tree
  • cracker
  • gift
  • gingerbread man
  • glove
  • holly
  • ice skate
  • reindeer
  • robin
  • rocking horse
  • santa
  • shooting star
  • sleigh
  • snow globe
  • snowflake
  • snowman
  • stocking
  • sweets
  • woolly hat
  • wreath

Without wishing to be too revealing (there’s some things you should have to do yourself), I make that two new items, lots of old favourites, and a couple of weird ones. PINs should be coming out on Thursday, but I have a busy day that day so they might end up with you tomorrow night instead. Exciting times!

2019 update, and the history and future of the code that was broken

So the good news is I think it’s all back working. It’s hard I can’t be bothered to test fully without simulating a whole competition – I ask for everyone’s patience and to report anything weird to me so it be fixed immediately! The items in the drop-down list on the guess form ARE the items that appear in the year’s calendar, so you may start strategising now! Guesses will open in a few days, unless you want to go ahead and guess your new PIN 🙂

The various website systems being broken wasn’t a problem that wouldn’t have occurred back in the first running of competition – sixteen years ago (another one of those “wow, I feel old” moments) in 2003. The story is told on the 2003 page and goes something like this – I had a Boohbah Advent Calendar, bought for me by me, as I remember¹. I cannot think how that escalated into a competition to guess the pictures but evidently it did – I do however remember how it was run. The thirteen players comprised me, my eight closest neighbours at uni, a girl™, two of my family and randomly, a friends mum².

And it was a very manual process that year – those that lived in my block at uni could just tell me, and I would otherwise take guesses by phone and by email. I would manually update the website each day and them inform each player if they had scored. I would request guesses rather than leave them in place. I would update everyone on how it was going rather than just leave the onus on the players. I couldn’t last and it was the only year which operated this way. By 2004 the code that still largely (albeit tweaked) runs the website today was written, and I haven’t looked back since.

I was going to write about how the 2003 running panned out, but I’ll leave that for another time. The fact that the code remains largely that I wrote 15 years ago frustrates me a bit, but as I have previously written here – motivating myself to rewrite the code out-of-season is a bit of a push when it comes to motivating, and once it is the season I am using the site so feel less inclined to play with it. The solution is developing a new site alongside with a copy of all the data, obviously. I’ll try.

The site look remains that of my website at the time – which is essentially aping the F1 Digital service’s onscreen graphics (the service existed from 1996-2002 in various countries around the world, but only 2002 in the UK. These graphics existed towards the end of its life). Blues and yellows and greys – in fact here are a few screen grabs I’ve cobbled together from YouTube. Look familiar?

Screengrabs from F1 Digital in 2002 – lovingly known at the time as “Bernievision”

I’m slowly letting go of these but I want to let them go completely. I envisage a more Christmassy coloured site, but more importantly than the colour scheme I want to get away from the things it’s locking in. The “messages from competition control” for example. I am 100% convinced that I could show data items currently shown here in a better way, for example. I also want to overhaul the stats pages a bit and not having a “graphics template” to work to will, I hope, allow me greater freedoms.

Maybe next year then? We’ll see…

¹ I didn’t even know what a Boohbah was then, and frankly couldn’t explain very well if you asked me now! But that wasn’t important…
² A theme that went on to be repeated in future years, though for some reason they never seem to last!

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