Monday, 30 December 2013

Only Connect Stats: Comparing Champions

The trophy gets into
the festive spirit
Now that the dust has settled on my team's victory in Series 8 of Only Connect, I've reverted to type and gone hunting for more fun statistics from the show. My latest interest is, predictably, how the Board Gamers compare with previous series winners, as well as whether the numbers can tell us anything about what 'makes' an Only Connect champion. What follows is an assortment of those facts and figures I thought interesting enough to share. (And just in case you're new to the blog, I've done a couple of previous posts on Only Connect stats which can be found here and here.)

Before I start, a bit of statistical housekeeping. Only Connect has now used three different tournament structures and so I've done a bit of fiddling to make the eight champions a bit more comparable. In particular the Board Gamers are the only team to have played five games, while Series 2 winners the Rugby Boys only played three. I've decided to drop the Board Gamers' loss to the Lasletts from these analyses to bring us in line with all the other '4 win' teams, while taking average scores across episodes to both help accommodate the Rugby Boys but also to make the figures a bit more digestible.

First up then, the headline stat: points! Graph number one (below) shows the average score for each series champion across their four (or three for the Rugby Boys) games. There's not really much in it, with all but Series 4 champions the Epicureans averaging in the range 23-26.5. However, this disguises the fact that while rounds 1-3 are static, the missing vowels rounds can vary in length (and so a varying number of points are available in them). If we discount missing vowels we find the Crossworders are the best series champions in terms of the first three rounds, with the Epicureans dropping from first to joint last with a certain trio of board game enthusiasts. Still, though, the range of average scores across these three rounds is predictably pretty narrow, from 16.25 in last to 20.5 in first.

Average score across all games for series champions.
If we look more closely at a round-by-round breakdown (below) we get a feel for teams' strengths and weaknesses, both relative to each other, but also within themselves. For example, it's little surprise to me that the Board Gamers scored best on sequences and missing vowels, while our average score on the walls was the lowest of all the series champions. Series 3 winners the Gamblers, meanwhile, were the most consistent performers with the smallest standard deviation of scores across rounds.
Average round-by-round scores for series champions.
Green and red highlight the highest/lowest averages for each round.
Again, though, we can see how the Epicureans' record is being skewed by their missing vowels scores, with an average of over 13 points in this round more than double that of some other champions. An alternative approach to assess missing vowels performance is to instead consider a team's score as a proportion of the total points scored (by both teams) in that round. This way an unusually long missing vowels round doesn't skew the data quite so much. Using this method we find that the Epicureans still turned in a perfectly commendable performance, gobbling up 70% of the points 'on offer' in their missing vowels rounds. The Board Gamers are second on this metric, while Series 6 champions the Scribes managed an almost ridiculous 88%. This isn't a perfect approach of course - my dataset doesn't account for missing vowels clues that went unsolved - but it nevertheless should give a slightly better indication of missing vowel strength than the raw numbers.

A final thought was whether series champions tend to be better or worse at certain rounds. The relative importance of each round is reflected  in how many times each series champion 'won' that round during their series. For example, the Crossworders scored more than their opponents in the connections round twice, while they scored more than their opponents in all four of their sequences rounds. I've summarized the round-by-round stats in another figure (below), which highlights the importance of the mainly-green sequences and missing vowels, as well as the fun fact that the Board Gamers have the dubious honour of being the only team to win an entire series despite never outright winning on the walls...
Series champions' win/draw/loss record for each round.
Note the Rugby Boys only appeared in three episodes.
So that's your lot. Now the excitement of Only Connect is dying down, The Ones That Got Away will be returning to its normal schedule of pub quiz misses and occasional more general quiz commentary. Although feel free to ask (either here on on Twitter @statacake) if you think of any fun Only Connect-based questions you'd like answering. In the meantime, here's wishing you all a prosperous 2014!


  1. Bravo Michael, and congratulations on your win.

    Interesting figures which tend to reinforce my assessment that you were a team cut from similar cloth to us (though not wearing similar cloth...) - just enough GK allied with lateral thinking and powerful MV to overcome teams with a superior quiz pedigree on paper (the team we beat in the final had 2 Mastermind Champions, and none of us have pretensions to quite that level). There's a bit of quiz snobbery about the show in some quarters, but I see OC as a game show with general knowledge only part of the equation. You were very deserving winners, especially based on your last two matches.

    I should note that our MV score was hugely inflated by our first ever match in which the excellence of our opponents (the Courtiers, who we battled to a draw by the end of the Walls) meant a super-long final round.

    Amusingly I reckon I could consider myself an honorary member of 6 out of the 8 teams to have won so far - my interest in rugby is pretty superficial, and I can't call myself a Scribe, but otherwise I could qualify for all the others :-)

    Good look with your CoC battle with the Francophiles (has this been recorded yet?)

    Best, Aaron

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for your kind words, and it's an interesting observation about the similarities of our teams. Also glad to hear from someone else who agrees that it's a show where general knowledge only gets you so far - I think a lot of our lateral thinking skills got a bit disguised by Jamie (he's the GK member of our team, Hywel and I are mostly the lateral thinkers) but seem to have come through in the stats, at least :p

      As for the CoC battle, no word on this yet (although I suspect if there had been we may have been sworn to secrecy, so perhaps I'm just saying that...).