Third Finalist - Dave McBryan
I'm originally from Dublin but came to university in Edinburgh 19 years ago, and loved the city so much that I never left. Although my degree was in Maths and Artificial Intelligence, ever since graduation I've made a living as a writer and presenter of pub quizzes. Other than quizzes and puzzles my two big interests (some would say obsessions) are poker and fencing, and I compete regularly at both. (I'm proud to say I've fenced for Ireland, but if I'm brutally honest that says less about my skills and more about the standard of Irish fencing...)
How did you find out about The Code?How did you find out about The Code?
I came across it while browsing BBC iPlayer (just after the second episode was broadcast).
At what stage did you get involved?
I did the first twocode-breakers after watching the second episode, but to be honest I wasn't very enthused by them. I had assumed the Ultimate Challenge was going to be no more than a slightly bigger version of one of them, so discovering it was something of a totally different nature and scale was when I really got hooked.
What was your favourite part?
Probably making the breakthrough of understanding how all the pages were connected, and the way I was then able to use that information to rapidly solve so much that had previously been problematic (both individual page puzzles and codes). As someone who normally works on my own, I also really liked being a part of the team involved in building the wiki. Finishing the challenge so quickly was only possible because so many talented puzzlers worked together – you all know who you are, thank you very much.
What did you find the most tricky?
The stress of the finishing straight! I was going a bit crazy due to sleep deprivation, so I made more simple errors in the final day of solving than in the first five combined. After finishing the last code, I could see exactly what I needed to do for the final stage, and just how close I was, but I was forced to leave it for a couple of hours while I dealt with a work deadline. At the time, knowing that two people had already completed and I was in a race for thrid place (against at least three others who also knew how to break that code), I was convinced that those hours would cost me any chance of making the finale. (Obviously I'm very relieved now I find that they didn't).
Have you taken part in anything similar before?
I am somewhat of a puzzle addict, so had come across most of the individual types involved before, but I'd never been as actively involved in a collaborative solving process. In terms of a large-scale project that combines a huge number of different styles of puzzles (and doesn't make it clear that some of them even are puzzles), the closest to this I'd done was possibly the online puzzle NotPron.
What are your problem-solving strengths and weaknesses?
My job means I have reasonably extensive general knowledge, so anything trivia based is right up my street. I guess my other main strength would be logic-based puzzles. I'm OK at word puzzles too, but much faster at logic. As for weaknesses, having worked with Pete along the way, I've learnt that my computer skills are certainly not up to his when it comes to organising and manipulating data quickly, and I suspect both he and Helen have an edge on me when it comes to decrypting codes.
What do you think your chances are of winning?
Depends entirely on what form the final challenge takes.
Overall how would you rate The Code as an experience?
Hard to say – the experience isn't over yet! So far, I'd say that as someone with a maths background, I found the TV series a bit slow, but I realise it was pitched at a wider audience. On the other hand, the Ultimate Challenge is quite possibly the best-constructed puzzle I've ever seen, made even more enjoyable by solving it in a team. The only caveat I would have concerns the errors: although in the end some of these were very satisfying to identify and work around, it was frustrating that they added an unnecessary day or two to an already epic undertaking. As it is, I suspect the angst of wondering every time you get stuck whether it's your fault or the compiler's means it's not something for everybody, but if the BBC publishes an error-free version, I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone.