Creativity

SETTING A Creativity competition is rather like writing the introduction to a joke, then relying on someone else to produce the punch line. That at least was my experience at the second Mind Sports Olympiad on Saturday when 25 eager contestants sat down for an event described presumptuously as the "World Creativity Championship".

Having last year set tasks similar to those of The Independent's weekly Creativity competition, I felt that something different was needed this time. So we began by setting competitors the practical task of concocting reasons for being precisely 17 minutes late for an appointment. The other task of the first round was to describe the consequences of finding a sea of chocolate on Mars.

Two or three contestants brightly put one and one together and came up with the excuse that they had gone into shock for 17 minutes after hearing the news about the chocolate on Mars, but the best answer to that question began: "Well, there were 17 of us trapped in an egg-timer..." The most mathematically precise contestant explained it away by mishearing "10.13" for "10.30".

The Martian chocolate brought some poor jokes about Mars Bars, with the more creative contestants veering off into the outer reaches of the Galaxy and the Milky Way. There were also a number of references to fat and spotty aliens.

Round two posed questions in a parody of normal puzzle format:

1. What is the next item in a series beginning G,G,G,G,G,G ?

2. Which of A, E, I , H, O, U is the odd one out?

3. If 179084 is the answer, what was the question?

Nobody, oddly enough, found the intended answers. The first sequence comprises the last letters of the days of the week in German, beginning on Thursday, so the next letter is H. Someone did, however, suggest the answer N, because the sequence is the third letter of every number beginning at 84. The answer to the second question is I because all the others are second letters of days of the week in English. And the third is: "If J times AITKEN equals SLEAZE, what is the value of AITKEN."

In round three, contestants were given the text of six disconnected news stories of the past month and asked to identify the supposed conspiracy that lay behind them all. Linking an illiterate Australian deaf mute murder suspect who knew no sign language with a team of Milwaukee women who have set up a company to remove pet dogs' droppings was no easy feat, but most contestants managed it. One man, however, startled passers-by between rounds when he was heard to shout in dismay: "Oh no, I didn't get the dog shit in".

The final round had a picture from the patent document of an odd item of headgear (in fact a self-doffing hat) and another incomprehensible picture of a naked Japanese bird-catcher to explain.

In all cases, marks were awarded more for quality than quantity of ideas expressed, with original ideas scoring higher than those shared that appeared in several responses. In the end, there was a tie for first place between Bruce Birchall, a regular contributor to this Creativity column, and David Bodycombe, author of The Mammoth Puzzle Carnival (Robinson, pounds 6.99). As there was only one gold medal, the tie was split in favour of Bruce Birchall because of his perfect 25/25 score on round two. A man who can state with conviction that 179084 is the number of cheese-graters in Swindon deserves the title of World Creativity Champion.

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