Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blind to Details

Some people are not born with the natural tendency to be meticulous in whatever they do. Essentially, they are blind to details. I have a number of those creatures in my office. Occasionally, when I find spelling or grammatical errors in a draft report, I would challenge some of them to spot those errors. And I am often amused to see how they would labour through the few paragraphs in a single page for hours and hours. Yet after spending perhaps half a day on that single page, they will not find the forsaken error!

Whenever there is a need to write typo-free reports—and I am obsessed with typo-free reports—these are the people I can't depend on. Not in a million years! They are blind as a bat. It doesn't matter if they have done the same thing over and over again for decades. They will never learn; they are simply hopeless! And so don't expect them to know what's the difference between ADVICE and ADVISE; PRINCIPAL and PRINCIPLE; YOUR and YOU'RE.

Last Friday, the sports club threw a farewell party for Ibrahim Ujar, a valuer in our company who decided to move back to West Malaysia, since his wife who's working for the government has been transferred to one of the states there. It was a simple tea party with some egg tarts and soft drinks and a farewell cake.

Some of those fellows decided to write a fancy message on the cake. And this was the result:

Challenge yourself to this simple proof-reading task. Can you spot anything wrong in those few words on the cake? Mistake can still happen even though we're only dealing with 4 (FOUR) freaking words!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Speech At A Funeral

Some time ago, I attended the funeral of a friend's mother who died of old age. If I'm not much mistaken she was way past 80 years old when she died.

I felt a little awkward to find myself in a church after many years since the last time I set foot in one. It was a Catholic church, and I noted that things have not changed much since all those years ago. The singing and occasional standing up and sitting down again. Then the sermon from the priest.

And then came the part when my friend took the mike to deliver a speech about his dead mother. I think it was the only part of the service that I actually paid much attention to. And I must say that it was a wonderful speech, worthy of an expert orator. He started with her childhood and upbringing in the village; how she met and then married her husband. The happy and full life she had had; her richness in love from all her children and grandchildren. Truly, it was a touching speech—I did not even realise the minutes that passed.

When the speech was over, we moved into a queue, leading up to the coffin where we could all get a glimpse of the dead woman to pay our last respect. As we left the coffin, we passed a line where all her children and grandchildren were standing—some of them fighting to hold back tears—and gave them words of encouragement and condolences.

Recently, I received news from mom in Vancouver. She said the doctors found a cyst in one of her ovaries, and they wanted to perform a surgery to remove that ovary. But actually, later I found out from my half-sister that, far from a cyst in her ovary, she had a tumour in her uterus. The doctors decided to remove the entire uterus and both ovaries. What seemed like a minor thing at first turned out to be something quite major. The doctors were unsure if the tumour was cancerous, but they put it as a 50-50 chance of cancer. Things were quickly looking grim. And I began making preparations to fly to Vancouver if things turned for the worst.

And then I thought of the worst-case scenario. I'm a realistic person, and prepared for the worst. After all, we will all become old one day, and the time will come for all of us to die. If it has to happen now, I will be sad, of course. I think 67 is still too young to die, and if I had it my way, I would love to see her celebrating at least her 75th birthday.

Then my mind began to wonder, and I experienced a bit of fear of her death. It will be a bit complicated to get all of my siblings over to Vancouver for the funeral. And the speech—yes, the speech! As the eldest son, I would want to be the one giving the speech. And I know I will have quite a bit of good things to say about mom.

And then my mind wondered a little further. Dad hasn't been well this lately too. He has survived 2 heart attacks, of which he had a quadruple bypass for the second one. Today he is still smoking like a chimney and does not control his diet. His blood sugar is constantly above the healthy level; his eyesight is worsening and his legs are frequently swollen. He's a diabetic, you see.

I wondered what it would be like at his funeral when the time comes? I suppose there will still be that speech-giving part, of which I will be the one to deliver. Suddenly, I was horrified when I realised that I don't have anything good to say about the man! He is the most selfish man I have ever known. Maybe it's best that Audrey handles the speech thing, 'cause I'm sure she's better in cooking up lies for the sake of a good funeral speech.

In the mean time, I have received news of a successful surgery from Vancouver. But the storm is not over yet. The doctors are sending the tumour to the cancer lab for further tests. Results should be out in about a week from now. Preliminary observation suggests that it might not be cancer after all. But if it is, then chemo will have to follow soon. So we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Busy-body World Policeman

It's quite amusing when you come to think of it, but a fair number of people just can't stand some developed countries like the United Kingdom and the United States of America. A good example is our very own former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad. Try and visit his blog and then search for any of his many posts about the USA. See if you can find any one of them in which he has something nice to say about the country and its leaders. Chances are, your search will be in vain. But try to search anyway. Who knows, by a stroke of miracle, you might just find one!

Actually, many other people are unhappy with the USA. The country is often perceived as a busy-body who appoints itself to be the world policeman. All too often, it minds other people's business, especially those countries where it has either direct or indirect interests—whether politically or financially.

The American Government has been known for its involvement in disputes in the middle eastern countries. In some cases, its involvement is military in nature; in others it initiates economic sanctions against a country etc. When it perceives a particular country may become a dangerous military force, it may try to convince its allies to set up economic sanctions; or even launch a preemptive attack on that country. Indeed, the American Government is the best example of the world policeman!

The thing about people in general is that when you admire someone so much, whatever that someone does is perfect in your eyes—even if it's not! When that someone wears an ugly dress, you will somehow think it's a beautiful dress; that ugly sunglasses so cool. Even when Britney Spears sings through her nose, her voice may sound so good to your ears.

However, the opposite is also true—when you hate someone's guts so much, whatever that someone does must be no good—even if in reality it is good!

Therefore, the next time the USA sees trouble brewing in the yonder, it should just leave them alone. For if it tries to be a busy-body, people will be quick to criticise it! It is much better to mind its own business. Maybe even let the trouble go out of control, thus causing the loss of many lives.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2010

The Penang Bridge International Marathon, which was held on 21 November 2010, is the toughest marathon I've ever joined so far. But I suspect there must be many other tougher marathons in the region. After all, this was only my fourth marathon.

In my excitement, I wore non-matching shoes for the trip, and I only realised it when I was already in the cab on my way to the airport. It became something quite fashionable, and I provided a bit of entertainment for the rest of the runners in my group from KK.

Most of us got to know each other through the adiNation runs on many Sunday mornings, and therefore were more accustomed to seeing each other in running outfits. So it was not surprising that when we met the other runners at the airport, Mia's first sentence was "Hmmm... somehow they look different when not in running outfits." And soon that particular line became the most popular sentence for the day. Almost everyone who turned up at the airport said it almost in verbatim. We had a pleasant fellowship at the departure hall.

It was well past 8pm by the time we checked in to our rooms at Eastin Hotel, which was just about 5-minutes walk to the start line of the race. Mia and I decided to go and collect our race packs before going for a late dinner. After dinner, we went back to the hotel, unpacked, had a shower, and then went to bed at around 11pm. But soon after that, it rained heavily, which was a bad sign for us marathoners.

The next day we spent most of our time hanging around Queens Bay Mall. I wasn't into the window shopping thing—never have—so apart from filling up my stomach, I spent most of that Saturday in the hotel room. Since the race would start at 2am the next morning, we went to bed at 6pm (yes, paranoia is a terrible thing), but were not destined to get any sleep at all that night. After tossing around in bed for several hours, we were finally up at around 11pm. We dressed up and then waited till about 1:30am before meeting the rest in our group at the lobby on the ground floor.

Dr Peter, the "Tormentor" arrived with his family the night before when we were already in bed. Although he, too, did not get much sleep, he was all smiles and ready for the race.

We walked to the start line and waited for a while before the arrival of the Chief Minister. Soon after his arrival, we were flagged off. I saw some familiar faces in the crowd. I tried to stay close to Dr Peter, who was in turn running with the 4-hour pacers. I must say it was quite a comfortable pace at first. But by the 9.5km point, just as we were approaching the mighty bridge, I was already feeling a bit of tiredness creeping in. It was quite obvious that there was no way I could have maintain that pace throughout the 42km. As we climbed the initial slope of the bridge, I decided to reduce my pace for fear of overusing my energy too quickly.

The climb to the middle of the bridge was quite pleasant, but by then I have already lost sight of Dr Peter. Immediately after that it was a gradual down-going stretch, and I was able to increase my pace. It was still some kilometres to the end of the bridge, but when we reached it, the turn was a series of going downhill, making a big underpass loop before climbing up again for the return leg. And then just a few minutes after that was a signboard showing 23.7km, which was obviously wrong. From a past experience I had in this event, I knew that a lot of things could go wrong. I ignored that sign and continued running

And then the thing I dreaded most happened. I felt cramps developing in both thighs, and I began to wonder what more could go wrong for this race. Not long after that, we reached the turning point for the half marathoners, and then suddenly I had people all over the place. I felt like there was a big conspiracy to prevent me from running my pace. Everybody seemed so determined to block my path.

As I was grumbling to myself, I was suddenly distracted by the drops of water from the sky. It began to drizzle, which was fine with me. But then the drizzle quickly developed into a full fledged rain; and then became a torrential rain with winds blowing from the front. Needless to say, I ended up dragging what seemed like buckets of water on my feet, but actually it's just my size-10 shoes fully filled up with rain water.

My cramps developed further as I approached the middle of the bridge, and it soon became clear to me that I would not finish the race. I tried compensating my thighs by giving more work to my calves, those too developed cramps very quickly. At the middle of the bridge I finally slowed down to a walk and entertained the idea of throwing in the towel, thus making this the first ever marathon that I would not complete. Ambulances were passing by with sirens on, and it made me wonder if some other people have fainted.

Arriving at a drink station, amongst the water in plastic bottles and cups—this must be the one race in the whole of Malaysia which only provides 95% water, and perhaps 5% isotonic drinks—I saw some curious round items which appeared a little like buns which hardly anyone would dare to touch.

I fought my cramps and decided to continue for another 1km. And then another, and another. By the time I reached the end of the bridge in Penang, blisters were already developing in both feet. But strangely, apart from a bit of biting pain, my mind was still mainly occupied by the cramps in my legs.

Proceeding a little further, I came to the turning point of the half marathoners, where I think some volunteers from the St John's Ambulance were stationed for window dressing purposes. These were stations meant for self-service only.

And then I surprised myself be deciding to continue with the race. As I was limping along that road, I saw Kevin running from the other direction on his return leg. A few minutes later, I saw Dr Joseph. And yet a few minutes later, I saw Dr Liaw.

Then came the first dreadful flyover. But actually, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. However, when one is suffering cramps and exhaustion, even a slight climb can be very punishing. As I was climbing the third flyover, I finally saw Dr Peter coming from the opposite direction. I called out to him; I said, "Hey, doc, just to check, did we bet on a baby lobster?" He responded with a broad smile but said nothing.

Soon after that third flyover, runners finally arrived at the turning point marked at 33km. There was a water station and some unripe bananas arranged nicely on a table.

Although I was still suffering pains in my legs, I was no longer limping at that point. I continued with a very slow pace, slowing down to a walk every now and then. On that return leg, I saw some of my friends from KK approaching the turning point. Andrew, Dr Helen and her brother. Then I saw Pamela in white outfit. And I saw Claire still going strong.

Approaching the 35km point, I knew that I would finish the race after all. And that was quite a relief. It would have been a shame if I couldn't finish this race, after all the trouble of getting here!

Maybe I was inspired by the pleasant thought of finishing the race; maybe it was the exhaustion; maybe it was because of the darkness; maybe it was the wanting so much to end the torture, but I was so glad to come to this signboard (although it was still dark when I saw it during the race):

It meant only another 2.2km to the finish line. With renewed determination, I increased my pace. I would at least run the last 2km like the Kenyans! I was determined to finish strong! I ran and ran and after 12 minutes, did not see the finish line. I was at the verge of fainting of exhaustion when I came to another signboard showing 39.4km! You should have seen me then—I honestly felt like wanting to cry! Only much later did I realise that the signboard I saw earlier was a speed limit sign, god dammit! That forsaken board almost cost me my life!

With the little energy left in me, I continued running. That last 3km was truly an amazing test of endurance and mental strength, especially after spending all my remaining energy in Kenyan fashion.

But that was still not the last. As I approached the last 2km towards the finish line, there was the entire herd of the 10km runners coming from the opposite direction. And these kids knew nothing about running ethics. They were all over the place. Some were talking on cellphones. The full marathoners were left with hardly any space to squeeze through. In the condition of enduring cramps and exhaustion in the legs, we had to make sudden stops and changes of direction to avoid the oncoming young runners who were mostly blind and couldn't see the runners from the opposite direction. It's either the organiser was stupid or the kids were stupid, but the net result was that the full marathoners had to pay the price.

You can imagine my elation when I approached the final roundabout leading to the Queens Bay Mall. And right at the turn, I ran into a jay walker who was happily crossing the road with his golf umbrella. No one seemed to know anything about crowd management, you see. That was the last straw that broke the camel's back. I shouted "Aiyah!" so loud that I must have attracted the attention of everyone within 1km radius! Then I ran the final 500m or so to the finish line, crossing it in 4:46.

As I crossed the finished line, I was greeted by Dr Peter with a broad smile. He had finished the race 8 mins ahead of me. A truly worthy opponent who trained so hard for this event, and who deserved every second of his victory. I shook his hand, and there and then, in front of thousands of people, bent my knees and bowed down to him, accepting my defeat! I would have gone all the way down on my knees, except that I wouldn't have been able to get up again in that condition!

I knew that Penang would be a tough route, but I didn't expect it to be this tough. Only Mia improved by about half an hour to 5:52; an admirable achievement. The rest in my group all failed to improve on our times.

Special congratulations to Claire Andrew for completing her first full marathon, having been through so much trouble to get herself to the starting line; and to Pamela Fletcher who also completed her first full marathon, except that she kinda overdid it by biting her medal for a photo pose, only to chip off a bit of the gold-coloured coating!

Without any doubt, a nightmare race for me. But I'm so glad to have participated in this race because of the friendship and fun I had with my Sabahan comrades. If I must, I would do it all over again!

Was I happy with the organiser? Not at all. I think they have a lot of room for improvement. Would I come again? I think I surely would. I would like to come again to conquer this race—not so much of winning it; rather to run an enjoyable race. That would be something to look forward to.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Obesity in Malaysia

I have long been aware of the increasing number of people who are overweight in Malaysia. Just by observing ordinary people in the streets, one is able to tell quite easily. However, I was a bit surprised to read that about 30 per cent of Malaysians are overweight, and 30 per cent obese. [Bernama]

I did not realise that the situation is that bad in Malaysia. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit my mom in Vancouver, Canada. Back then, I had the impression that Canada must have been the fattest country in the world. If one were to throw a stone randomly, he is bound to hit an obese person. Then recently, when I was watching The Biggest Loser, it was said that the fattest country in the world is the USA!

I think it's quite obvious that the obesity problem has a lot to do with the richness of the country. I don't think Malaysia is "rich", but 60 per cent of its people is at least overweight. Imagine that—60 per cent!

Almost all of my siblings are fat—even obese. And of course when one is fat, it's just a matter of time before some of the common illnesses would develop. In my family, for example, my dad, my step mother, my sister Bridget, and my brother, Dennis have type two diabetes. My sister Grace is, I think, about 5'3", but she's over 100kg. So I think it's just a matter of time before she, too, becomes a diabetic. Dad has been relying on the insulin tablets for some years, but recently even those couldn't help him. He now requires daily jabs.

I don't know if obesity has very much to do with the so-called fat genes. For sometimes I feel I could gain weight by just looking at food. It takes a lot of discipline to balance a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, e.g. regular exercises. But discipline is a very tricky word—one that most of my family members have no clue as to its meaning. And as we all know, the vast majority of the human race almost always try to do something only when it's already too late—way too late.

My brother, Dennis, has 2 sons, Mohd Aqil and Mohd Arif. The latter, who's the younger one of the two, is fat, and I foresee would soon be qualified to fall into the category of obese. If I'm not mistaken, he's about 9 years old now, but his shirts are the size of teenagers'. If my grandmother is still alive today, she would be very happy to see this kid eat. And he can really eat—he can eat so much, and so fast, that he could be a good specimen for anyone wanting to learn more about the theory of the black hole. Well, it's not exactly the same thing, of course, but the similarity is there, if you know what I mean.

The good news is that recently the kid actually realised the downside of being fat. So he decided to control his food intake for a bit. I didn't think he had it in him to control his appetite, but the mere fact that he's trying to is already good news, you see. After all, his father, Dennis, has been trying to lose weight for something like 10 to 15 years, at least, and was never successful until he became a diabetic about 2 years ago.

Well, anyway, I thought it was quite amazing that Mohd Arif was able to control himself by refraining from eating his favourite noodles for a good 12 hours or so. And about 7 to 8 of those hours were spent sleeping at night. Still, 12 hours without food is a big deal for this boy. If only you've seen him eat, you would know what I mean.

I did, on several occasions, jokingly tell the boy to try harder to cut down on his food and do more exercises, perhaps play more games. But I try not to overdo it, because Dennis is not one who would readily welcome advice from people with good intentions for his sons. That is quite natural—we all tend to think that we know what's best for our kids. And perhaps I am also guilty of this same tendency!

Thankfully, they don't eat pork, I suppose a blessing being Muslims. After all, pork can kill you—especially dangerous for stupid people. [The Malay Mail] However, pork or no pork, Dennis is still not immune from the problem of high cholesterol and triglycerides. I just hope Dennis realises soon enough that Mohd Arif is not "cute" being fat. It's too late for him to do anything about being a diabetic—there is no cure for it—but he could do a lot to prevent his son from getting it too.

But then again, to solve this problem, discipline is required. How many people actually have it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Penang Bridge International Marathon—The Countdown

Well, this is it, the last week leading to the Penang Bridge International Marathon. It's the final countdown before that gruesome 42.2km torture in Penang!

Over the last few months, quite a number of my runner friends in KK have been training for this event. During the weekdays, we've been running according to our own respective schedules, but over the weekends, we've been running many long runs together as a group under the adiNation Group of Runners' banner. Yesterday was the last of such runs, of which most of us did a mild 12km.

Nevertheless, Dr Peter stands out as the most-trained runner from KK. He's been building up his mileage with hardly any stepbacks over the last few months. Within this final month prior to the Penang Marathon, he's been doing 35km long run every Sunday without fail. The rest of us could only watch in horror as Dr Peter was making history.

Dr Peter and I have a bet for the Penang Marathon. Whoever loses will have to buy a lobster meal. To be quite honest, I'm not really a very big fan of lobsters, but since we've started betting on lobsters before this, we're continuing the same format for Penang.

Although Dr Peter and I are serious about the bet, that is not really the main reason why he's been training the way he did. Actually, he's experimenting a new way of training for the marathon. According to him, he's been following the conventional approach, which was to increase mileage for 2 weeks and then step back on every third week, up to the peak long run three weeks before the event. Yet, during the last event, he suffered cramps in his legs beyond the 30km point. He reckoned that if he did more 30km runs, his legs would adapt to that distance. A very interesting idea and seems very logical.

I prefer to adopt the conventional approach, but I must admit that Dr Peter's approach makes sense. Except that I don't have it in me to train to that extent! I shudder at the thought of running over 30kms for a few weeks, although I've read that elite marathon runners actually do something similar like that. So it will be interesting to see how far can Dr Peter improve.

I regularly run with Dr Peter at the Likas track. And I always find that I'm having a hard time keeping up with him. I think he's doing me good, because by trying to keep up with him, I force myself to improve also. But I can't help feeling that I'm tormented each time I run with him. In Penang, we have made some jerseys, and on Dr Peter's will be the word "TORMENTOR", whereas on mine will be "TORMENTED".

I had a bit of a scare last week. I was down with a terrible flu, cough and fever. But I kept running anyway, although I reduced the distance a bit. By today, the flu and fever are gone, but I still have a bit of cough. So I'm confident that I will fully recover for this Sunday.

There will be a big contingent from KK this time. At a rough count, I know at least 15 runners, most of whom will be running the full marathon. Mia will also be attempting her second full marathon, having had a horrible experience in the Borneo International Marathon 3 in May this year.

Well, just a few more short runs over the next few days and then we'll be in Penang by Friday evening. I know I'm gonna suffer on the slopes, I just hope that I won't get the cramps in my legs again. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doctors vs Businessmen

From a recent conversation I had with mom over the phone, the doctors found a cyst in one of her ovaries. Unfortunately, mom is not born with a keen sense for details, so there's not much use to try to find out more information from her about her condition. To her, the doctors found something there, and it needs to come out—plain and simple. She probably thinks that she'd be given something so that she'd fall asleep for a few hours while the doctors cut the thing off. And then she'll be up and running again the next day, perhaps in good time for her favourite bingo games on Monday and Thursday.

Later on, I obtained a bit more info from my half sister who told me that both her ovaries and her entire uterus will have to go. So I suppose the doctors are not taking any chances. Apparently, the cyst in her ovary is not cancerous, but after all, I suppose a woman in her mid-sixties would no longer need her uterus and ovaries.

As a matter of habit, I have since done a bit of reading about ovarian cancer and related topics. I don't claim to know a lot—certainly I have only fathomed perhaps 5% of the subject. One of the related topics I found interesting is the CA-125, which is commonly referred to as the tumour marker.

The Sports & Recreational Club of our company conducts an annual comprehensive blood test for all the staff at a "discounted rate" by one of those labs in KK. I think it's a good annual project of our sports club. I remember that amongst the available tests in the blood screening package, was the test to detect elevated levels of CA-125 for the ladies. But that was an optional add-on test which cost a bit more for the ladies. The CA-125 test was promoted as a screening test for early detection of mainly ovarian cancer, although not limited to that type of cancer.

However, I have since read up a bit on the topic, and then had the opportunity to verify some points of the CA-125 test with my friend, Dr Peter, during one of our recent long runs.

It may be surprising to some of you, but the CA-125 test offered by the labs is not even suitable to be used as a screening test for ovarian cancer, especially for pre-menopausal women, simply because there are just too many other factors that can cause an elevated level of CA-125 in the body. But what's worse is that there are cases where ovarian cancer is present, yet the test of CA-125 may be negative, thus resulting in a false security! This may lead to delayed treatment, and we all know that when it comes to cancer, precious time lost usually means death!

The recommended use of the CA-125 test is as a follow up of treatment of ovarian cancer to monitor progress, not so much for detection of the disease.

Yet the labs have been promoting the CA-125 test as a screening test. What's even more disturbing is that even some of the specialist medical centres are offering such tests. I think only doctors should be authorised to order such tests as the CA-125.

The only trouble is that when doctors wear the physician's cap as well as the businessman's cap, ethics may become a secondary consideration in the equation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hong Kong—Initial Review

I'm down with a terrible flu and cough and a slight fever. Feeling awful the whole day today at the office. Hopefully, will recover in a couple of days. Need to continue with my running, as the Penang Marathon is next Sunday, no time to lose on training!

Just fetched Mia and JJ from the airport. The moment she got into the car, the first thing she told me about her Hong Kong experience was that Hong Kong people are very rude. Although I've never been to Hong Kong in my entire life, this was not news to me. I've heard so many people saying the same thing to me before. But I will have the opportunity to confirm it when I visit Hong Kong in February next year for the Hong Kong Marathon.

In the mean time, folks, if you plan to visit Hong Kong anytime soon, and plan to save on hotel, try to avoid Oriental Pearl Budget Hotel, Nathan Road, Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui Area, Kowloon. You are really gonna regret it!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Novice Hunt 2—The Hilly City

About a year ago, when I was setting a hunt in KK, it suddenly occurred to me to choose a signboard which I would use again and again for the next 3 of my hunts. It's an interesting psychological experiment.

And so, in October 2009, I unleashed the first of 3 of my cryptic clues meant for the same answer in the KK Challenge 5. No team was able to answer that clue. So I was encouraged to continue with the second of my evil clues! It happened in the KK Challenge 6, where again nobody was able to solve the clue.

The third time I used that same signboard as the intended answer was more satisfying in that 4 teams were able to solve the clue. But I don't know if some of those successful teams chose the answer because there were able to catch on to my trend, or if they really did solve the clue!

Q33) They're seen only once in The Hilly City.

I suppose this means I need to look for other signboards to use for my answer in my future hunts. But it's been fun using this particular board.

Novice Hunt 2—Unimpressive Surface Reading

Most of the treasure hunters who frequented this blog in the past would know by now that I am an advocate of smooth surface reading in cryptic clues. And I still maintain that a cryptic clue is more elegant when the surface reading, i.e. the literal "storyline" of the sentence(s) is constructed with impeccable grammar and different from the true intention of the setter. The literal meaning of the surface reading is also useful to lead the solver as far away from the scent of the true intention of the clue.

Q18) Say you're sorry that face is its beginning.

In the Novice Hunt 2, I kept up my habit of carefully constructing smooth surface reading as much as I could. But the above question was the spoiler. In terms of surface reading, I dare say it is just awful! Apparently, there is no meaning to the "storyline". It's quite painful for me because I'm known to constantly criticize unimpressive surface reading in cryptic clues. Yet, in this particular case, I've constructed such a clue myself!

A strong treasure hunter who knew my objection to unimpressive surface reading was so affected that he sent me a text message during the hunt, saying, "Q18 no surface reading", and that absolutely put a smile on my face!

The obvious question: Why would someone like me construct such an awful cryptic clue?

And the common sense answer was, because I had no choice but to use those words in verbatim in exactly that order! Those words simply had to be exactly in that order because changing anything there would destroy the entire riddle and its solution!

Those words were taken from the lyrics of a very famous song by Taylor Swift, White Horse, from a very successful album entitled Fearless. And those few words are the beginning of that song.

It's been said that sometimes it pays to know the style of the Clerk-of-Course (CoC). According to the only team which solved this riddle, they were lost for a while. But then they suddenly remembered that the English and surface reading did not accord well with my style, and that made them think and investigate why. And because of that, they found the answer in the end.

Novice Hunt 2—Partial Translation

One of the questions in the 1Malaysia Hunt a few months ago was set for the Lintas Square sector—a sector which is sure to be included in all of my hunts. The question, set by the famous Time Out Solutions, was like this:

Q17) A fun card game needs them to build our party sponsor.

A17) Club M Pub & Lounge

I discussed the question (and answer) mainly on grammatical grounds, but recently an anonymous commenter made an interesting suggestion. You can refer to his suggestion in the comment portion of the post.

He asked, "Can we interpret "them" as The-"M",which would satisfy the single-letter requirement[?]"

A very good question, which I believe originated from the mind of a creative and strong treasure hunter. You can read my arguments against his idea (I'm using a masculine pronoun, although the commenter could have been a woman too), so I shall not repeat them here.

However, the point I'm trying to make here is that it may be possible to break up a single word into several words, each with meanings of its own, provided that the setter signals that possibility. Otherwise, I don't think it is fair to expect the solvers to read a single word with a meaning of its own as several words.

In the Novice Hunt 2, I applied a similar idea, involving a translation from English into Malay, but carefully informing the solvers my intention:

Q1) This business runs a partial translation?

"This business" is of course referring to the name of the business as seen on the signboard within the given sector.

"runs" is the fodder, i.e. the target word which is to be translated. But because of the word "partial" in the clue, the translation involves only the "run" portion with the remaining letter "s" unaffected. The intended solution after that "partial translation" is "LARIS", where "LARI" is the Malay word for "RUN".

This was the first question of the Novice Hunt 2. It wasn't meant to be a tough clue. This signboard was highly visible from the car, and it stood almost exclusively on its own. Yet some teams still failed to solve this clue. Could it have been a case of too slow to build up hunting momentum? Could it have been a case of blind spot?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Novice Hunt 2

The Novice Hunt 2, which came to an end this afternoon, saw some interesting surprises. Prior to the hunt, the hunters in 2 new teams, Timbak Bukan Sembarang Timbak (TBST) 1 and 2 had told me that they felt confident that they would secure a top-3 finish. Although I knew that they were quite good in the game, I thought it wasn’t so easy to achieve the top 3 positions because there were several other regular teams in the fray. But when the hunt ended, TBST 1 and 2 made good of their boasts.

I designed the Novice Hunt 2 as a pure hunt, comprising 40 route questions, and 4 treasure questions. From a scale of 1 to 5 difficulty levels, I’d reckon that this hunt was a level 3. In the end, the majority of the teams scored 70% and above. But although I gave a fair number of easy questions, I also threw in some very tricky ones—not tough, but tricky!

An example of a tricky question which was meant for a sector wherein 3 signboards, SAWIRA TEXTILES, SAWIRA TRADING and RESTORAN SAWIRA were found, was like this:

Q) Found in the middle of Sawira, they are the name of this eatery.

But in the end, the answer had nothing to do with Sawira at all. Instead, the required answer was: RESTORAN WANDI.

I also set another interesting question in Inanam:

Q) Dalam tingkap ini kelihatan nama untuk kedai makan.

KEDAI KOPI KAPIN (Dalam tingkap ini...) is very famous for their food catering business. Many people in KK would know this shop. I think what really happened in this hunt was that most of the teams actually solved the question long before arriving at the sector. And because they were so sure of their answer, when they finally did arrive at the sector, all they needed to do was to make sure that the board was still there, and then trying very hard not to stare at that board, breeze through quickly. Ordinarily, solving questions “ahead” is a very good policy. It is good to just pass the sector quickly, because that can probably prevent rival teams from “stealing” your answer.

I, of course, saw that coming, and so I set the trap with that in mind. I did not expect my trap to be very successful though, but I thought it would at least be a good lesson for the new teams. This was after all a “novice” hunt.

And true enough almost all the teams, including the top 3 winners, took KEDAI KOPI KAPIN as the answer for the clue! Only ONE team saw the significance of the words “kedai makan” in the clue. Underneath that huge board with KEDAI KOPI KAPIN on it, there’s another signboard bearing KEDAI MAKAN KAPIN!

One strange thing I noticed about this hunt was that many of the regular teams made uncharacteristic mistakes. I’m not sure what really happened to the teams. I did not think that I gave them too little hunting time. 5 hours for 40 route questions (at least half of which were easy ones) and 4 treasure questions over an approximate distance of 36km. There were some traffic jams in some sectors, but even after allowing for those, 5 hours did not seem to be too little. But somehow all the regular teams were not performing up to strength. I must make it a point to find out which specific factor during the hunt that caused the psychological distraction.

After the hunt, as usual everyone had a lot of fun, laughing out loud, during the answer presentation. I could tell that everyone had a good experience today. I hope we have infected the new teams with the addiction to treasure hunting!

Results (Maximum score: 100 points):

1) Bernard Liew, Alvin Wong, Christine Netto, Benjamin Liew (87pts)

2) Jude Ripin, Victoria Jingulam, Irene Lee, Norazimah (83pts)

3) Ernie J Ripin, Roland Ripin, Maxentius Donysius, Jennifer J Topin (78pts)

4) Masri Khan, Ag Sarpuddin Ag Kassim, Ag Ahmad Ag Samad, Zurinah Hanafiah (76pts)

5) Ellen Yee, Dr Liaw Yun Haw, Shirley Lim, Mary Lokupi (76pts)

6) Teo Chen Lung, Leslie Yew, Sam Lee (74pts)

7) Harry W Koh, Buddy Jiliun, Wendy Liew, Sophia Lai (72pts)

8) Francis Omamalin, Eileen Yeoh, Lee Tze Jim, Moina Liew (70pts)

9) Shirley Chai, Winnie Chee (70pts)

10) Richard Stidi, Joanna Stidi, Suzanne Stidi, Nicole Stidi

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Playing Doctor

This poor woman obviously needs help—desperately!

If I were a doctor, I would prescribe the maximum legal dose of Xanax (Alprazolam) for a week, with a possible further combination with other sedatives of similar strength if the symptoms still persist after that duration. Alprazolam is a tranquilizer used in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety or the treatment of anxiety disorders.

But of course I am not a doctor. I'm just saying, if I were a doctor, that's probably what I'd do to help this woman. But since I'm not a doctor, don't try this solution, ya hear?