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David Newton

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Bamboozle! [Dec. 14th, 2016|02:58 am]
David Newton

A post inspired by this, where I ended up writing rather a lot.

I used to play Bamboozle all the time before school (though I only ever really had a hope at the Saturday editions which were aimed at children of about ten)... it was interesting how it was set up, and so archaic now! I’m going to seriously go on about this, so get ready.

This is based on just my experience with it, but as far as I could tell, Teletext worked by broadcasting pages of text over the airwaves in sequence in blocks of one hundred, then looping back to the start. So at any time, the 1XX range of pages would be beaming into your aerial in the sequence 100, 101, 102... 198, 199, 100, 101 (and the same for 2XX, 3XX, etc).

This meant that when you requested a page (in this picture, number 390, but I can’t remember Bamboozle ever being at that page) a separate number display would come up showing which page was being broadcast at the time, and you had to wait for it to roll around to the one you wanted so it could ‘catch and display it. If you were lucky you’d catch it at the right time, but if you requested 390 and the TV was currently receiving 392, you’d have to wait until it came all the way around again... I think the whole cycle never took more than about 30 seconds but when you’re browsing around, that multiplies up quickly.

And those coloured buttons were used as “shortcuts” between pages! On each page, the coloured buttons would be wired to relevant other pages, and a bit of text would be displayed in each colour at the bottom of the screen describing where the four colours went - on the BBC News front page which let’s say was at 110, red might be wired to politics on page 112, yellow for sports on 113, blue for a delightful BBC Micro-rendered weather map on 116, and so on.

Bamboozle was a quiz game, and on each page, a question was asked with four possible answers presented in the four different colours. The link text at the bottom of the page just said “Answer” or something generic for each one - but underneath, three of those buttons led to a page telling you you gave the wrong answer, and one of them led to the next question. Once you’d played a few times, you got used to what the wrong and right page numbers were, and if you saw the page number in the “requested page” slot before the broadcast cycled around to displaying it, you could change your choice and find the right answer without it noticing. Eventually, the last question’s correct answer would direct you to the winning page.

But if each page had a number, you could just type in the winning page and get right to the end, couldn’t you? Well... no, and this was another quirk of the system - all the pages of the quiz were stored in slots with “numbers” like 12A, 12B, 12C that you couldn’t enter directly (you only had your remote control numbers to work with). I think the extra slots were A-F, implying that the whole Teletext system actually used hexadecimal numbering but that all pages were usually assigned slots that looked decimal for human use? Or maybe it was just a coincidence that there were six extra slots - I don’t know.

You could cheat a little, though - during normal operations, the Up and Down buttons raised and lowered your requested page number by 1. I’m not sure if this was universal to all televisions, but on the one in my family’s living room, you could also walk back through the hidden lettered pages by hitting the Down button - 12C, 12B, 12A... and if you went below that it would revert to 129, therefore linking you away from the quiz. The reverse wasn’t true - if you hit Up on 12C you’d be put straight to 130, so you couldn’t skip forward. This was useful, though, because the questions were arranged in blocks of 4 with “wrong answer” pages with the highest slot at the end of the block:

12A = Question 1
12B = Question 2
12C = Question 3
12D = Question 4
12E = Wrong answer for questions 1-4
12F = Question 5
13A = Question 6
13B = Question 7
13C = Question 8
13D = Wrong answer for questions 5-8
13E = Question 9
13F = Question 10

(The ‘wrong answer’ pages always linked you back to the start of their block and made you tediously pick through questions you’d already answered again - otherwise they would have to have had a unique wrong answer page for each question). So with a layout like this, it was possible to answer any question from 1-4 wrongly, press Down when on or requesting the 12E wrong answer page, and skip straight to question 4 - however, it wasn’t possible to skip upwards.

[User Picture]From: davidn
2016-12-15 01:47 am (UTC)
I haven't seen those recovered Teletext pages, that's amazing :) Is he recovering them from people who had the actual pages recorded on to VHS, or is the incoming Teletext data recorded along with the visual data on to tape? If it's the latter we must have untold reams of it hidden on tape in my parents' house...

Though I never saw the original 25-question weekly version of Bamboozle because it took us so long for us to get a television that was capable of receiving Teletext! I must have been about 13 before our ancient one finally packed it in and my parents bought another one second-hand from a neighbour. :)
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[User Picture]From: canadanne
2016-12-15 01:55 am (UTC)
If people taped anything off the TV, apparently the Teletext data was recorded along with it - he's got some special software that can decode it and clean it up. Lots of people have been donating their old videos, so there should be plenty more gems to discover on them. :) One of his first few uploads included a letter I'd sent to Mega-zine - what are the chances?!
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[User Picture]From: davidn
2016-12-15 01:57 am (UTC)
Oh, that's fantastic :D I never participated but I read that a lot - what name did you write under?

I was on Digitiser once, though! Someone had requested help with Simon the Sorcerer 2 and I sent in a handwritten letter with a solution to some puzzle or other, but they had to cut it down dramatically to fit it on to the Teletext page and it came out mostly as gibberish.
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[User Picture]From: canadanne
2016-12-15 02:09 am (UTC)
I had a few printed under Troubled Penguin and a few under Miss MacPhisto, but I wasn't a very frequent contributor so I doubt those will ring a bell. :)

Haha... I don't think I was ever on Digitiser, but I loved it. Digitiser 2000 (run by one of the original writers) is well worth checking out if you're not already familiar with it!
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[User Picture]From: canadanne
2017-01-02 05:15 pm (UTC)
This recovery from Christmas 1993 was just shared on the Knightmare forum, if you haven't seen it. This is when Bamboozle was temporarily replaced by an interactive KM quest written by Michael Cule! The start page is on 459 (there's also a different one on 458), with the quest played out on the hexadecimal pages. What an excellent find. :D
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